Lack of University involvement in lawsuit frustrates both plaintiffs and defendants

*For safety reasons, a source’s last name was retracted from this article.

The trial for the lawsuit filed by Jewish San Francisco State University students and alumni is this week, Nov. 8, and the University has yet to be transparent with the position they are going to take with both the defendants and plaintiffs involved in the lawsuit.  

Dr. Rabab Abdulhadi, professor of both Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas and Race and Resistance Studies has been undergoing this lawsuit without the help from President Leslie E. Wong or any SF State administration.

“He hasn’t even called me to check up on me once, nor has he replied to the letter the PSAA (Palestinian Sociological and Anthropological Association) has sent him,” she said.

The letter includes a formal plea for Wong and the University to fight the lawsuit and “publicly defend the academic freedom of Professor Abdulhadi and her colleagues at SFSU.”

One current Jewish SF State student and two Jewish alumni hired The Lawfare Project to file a lawsuit accusing the University of being anti-semitic. This claim was partially based on the belief that SF State didn’t severely punish students from the General Union of Palestinian Students after they protested the arrival and speech of the Mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat.

The lawsuit explains that ever since the founding of the College of Ethnic Studies in 1968, the University has been harboring “an extremely disturbing and consistent pattern of anti-Jewish.”

It also states that these patterns have been most apparent this year because they claim that in February 2017, “Hillel was intentionally and surreptitiously barred from a ‘Know Your Rights’ Fair based on its members’ religion and ethnicity, with the full knowledge and involvement of SFSU administrators.”

Amanda K. Berman, a lawyer from the Lawfare Project, believes that the University has every right to handle the allegations against them however they find fit, but she believes that the University has not acknowledged [their] failures and instead “has resorted to legal maneuvering in order to avoid responsibility.”  

“[Ignoring], the allegations in the complaint regarding the deprivation of Plaintiffs’ civil rights, ignoring the university’s responsibility to protect Jewish individuals on campus, and ignoring its legal obligation to ensure that all students of all faiths, backgrounds, ethnicities, genders, nationalities and sexual orientations are entitled to the same rights, benefits and privileges, has led us to this point, said Berman”

Abdulhadi, advisor of GUPS, was not present during the protest. Abdulhadi also said she did not advise or encourage her students to protest, but has been the victim of verbal and libelous cyberbullying ever since. Abdulhadi claims that most of her attacks happened because Wong and the University have not been firm in condemning the Islamophobia and the false claims of the lawsuit. Abdulhadi said she still does not even know if Wong and the administrators will be fighting to help her case.

The lawsuit, originally filed on June 19, did not clearly name Abdulhadi as one of the original defendants, but the second version, which was edited on Aug. 31, does. Because of this, Abdulhadi sought help from Wong and the Administration but did not hear a reply on time before the 30-day time limit she had for replying to lawsuits. This made her seek help from colleagues, who found a Jewish lawyer, Mark Kleiman, who is helping Abdulhadi pro bono.

Kleiman believes that it took so long for the administration to reply to Abdulhadi because all the administrators were being sued at the same time, and because of that it was very chaotic to tend to everyone before the deadline. Though the administration did eventually supply Abdulhadi with a lawyer she had already she had been working with Kleiman by the time they did. But Kleiman believes that perhaps the schools have been keeping Abdulhadi in the dark on purpose, just in case they would need her to negotiate.

The administrators have had a meeting on campus with their lawyers and still didn’t let know nor invited her to these meetings.  

“My guess is, if the school doesn’t get thrown down, that they would want to throw the professor under the bus … not by saying she did anything, but by offering to pay to make this go away,” Kleiman said. “But if they want her name, which means they want her to take the blame, she will not sign.”

Kleiman states that taking the blame for this would ruin the credibility of anyone in academia.

“Reputation matters, especially when getting grants approved, and it is taking a toll on her reputation,” said Kleiman.

The lawsuit contains a long list of claims that SF State has had a history of anti-Semitism.

But most of the claims in the lawsuit are filed as “information and belief,” which, according to Kleiman, is equivalent to saying  “we’re guessing this happened; we don’t know it happened, but here’s our guess.”

Kleiman said the plaintiffs used the phrase “information and belief” 24 times in the lawsuit.

“I have been a lawyer for over 30 years, and I’ve never seen this phrase so many times in a lawsuit. Even having it just once reduces the credibility.”

The lawsuit also did not link any of the claimed facts to Abdulhadi.

Linda*, one of the GUPS members who took part in the first protest against Barkat, said that one the biggest misconceptions the lawsuit and media have had are calling the protest against Barkat solely a GUPS protest.

“This is not a GUPS protest; this is a Coalition of students from various groups of people of color who were all concerned about this problem,” Linda said. “It wasn’t just Palestinian students, there was 50 people and only about five [GUPS members].”

Linda also wanted to make it known that the protest was not against the students or Judaism, but the political power Barkat has and is known for. Linda also said that before the visit of Barkat, GUPS has never attended any of Hillel’s events.  

“We were there because of an Israeli politician; we were not there to be against any student group or our fellow peers, nor were we there to protest the University,” Linda said. “We were there to protest a person who is directly involved with the occupation and murder of Palestinian people and people who are contributing to our struggle.”

Linda rejects the claim of being anti-semitic, GUPS and the Coalition who protested with her would have protested anyone who threatened the safety of race on campus.

“As Palestinian students, we would have protested a KKK member or anyone who’s involved with the murder and genocide of people, especially people of color,” said Linda.

Director of Hillel, Ollie Benn, believes that this was not an efficient way for GUPS to get their point across.

“The solution to speech you don’t like is speech you do like, and explaining [to] others how you feel generates understanding,” said Benn. “Shouting to somebody hardens students’ existing perspectives and doesn’t persuade anyone, even if it feels good in that second.”

Benn also stated that because GUPS disrupted the panel, they took away dialogue that could have been beneficial for both parties, since some of the Hillel students were critical of the policies and ready to ask Barkat questions.

“Jewish Students at Hillel have many different views about Middle East politics,” Benn said. “Some students planned to attend to ask tough, critical questions of Mayor Barkat when he came to speak. They were denied that opportunity.”

Linda, however, believes that Barkat’s visit endangered her and other Palestinian students’ safety. She said it is impossible to talk to a person who does not see her and Palestinians as human beings.

“I can’t [have a] dialogue with anyone who supports the horrors and the terrifying experiences that my family and all our families have been going through — from being humiliated at the Israeli border, or from us not being able to return to our homelands, to our people dying in refugee camps,” she said. “When you’re ready to say ‘free Palestine,’ then things will change.”

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