Judge dismisses lawsuit alleging anti-Semitism against SF State and professor
A drawn out court battle alleging that an SF State professor was encouraging anti-Semitism came to a final close on Thursday, Oct. 29.
A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit accusing Arab and Muslim Ethnicities Diaspora professor Dr. Rabab Abdulhadi, the adviser of the General Union of Palestine Students.
“This is really an incredible victory,” Abdulhadi told the Xpress. “This is big vindication for campus activism in Palestine, and against white supremacy, homophobia, sexual harassment and neoliberalism.”
Mandel v. Board of Trustees, which was first filed in June 2017, pitted the plaintiffs, former Hillel at SF State member Jacob Mandel and four other Jewish students, against the defendants, 10 administrators and one professor, Abdulhadi.
The Lawfare Project, a conservative pro-Israel law firm representing the plaintiffs, claimed the Jewish students were discriminated against in class and on campus because of their religious and political views.
“It is an abuse of the courts to bully Palestinian scholars and students, and scare administrators into silencing campus debate,” said Liz Jackson, attorney with Palestine Legal. “Judge [William] Orrick rejected Lawfare’s attempt to equate calls for justice with discrimination.”
According to Orrick’s written decision, the plaintiffs failed to show proof of Abdulhadi’s malicious intent.
The lawsuit focused on Abduhadi’s alleged role in coordinating a GUPS shutdown of a March 2016 campus visit by Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat. It also alleges discrimination when GUPS excluded Hillel and other pro-Israel students groups from participating in the February 2017 Know Your Rights Festival.
The plaintiffs also claimed the administration violated their First Amendment right to assemble when it did not order police officers to remove protesters from the Barkat event and for moving the event to a remote, fee-based location on campus, according to the case summary.
Neither Wong or any other university representative would comment on the case, said SF State Associate Vice President of Marketing and Strategic Communications Mary Kenny.
In March 2018, Orrick dismissed the plaintiffs’ argument without prejudice — meaning they could file another lawsuit should they get more evidence.
“There is nothing other than conjecture supporting plaintiffs’ assumption that Abdulhadi had knowledge of the planned disruption of the Barkat event or exclusion of Hillel, or had the authority or responsibility to stop either situation from unfolding,” the judge wrote.
Last month, the judge found that the plaintiffs again failed to present evidence showing that the administration or Abdulhadi acted to limit the free speech of pro-Israeli students or foster a hostile environment for Jewish students.
Abdulhadi said just because a person is critical of Israeli policies against Palestine does not mean they are anti-Semitic.
“They come and invent these false charges of anti-Semitism to derail us, to distract us,” Abdulhadi said. “And it’s been ongoing. They basically want to litigate me to death. This is what they want to do. They want to continue filing again and again so I shut up, and the AMED program is dismantled and scare the university — just like McCarthyism.”
Xpress was unable to reach the plaintiffs by press time.
She said the lawsuit was an attempt from conservative Zionist organizations like the Canary Mission to force the administration to distance themselves from AMED and justice in Palestine.
“They are very upset with that because I’m saying, ‘I’m sorry you don’t own Jewishness’” Abdulhadi said. “Zionists don’t own Jewishness.”
The Jewish Voice for Peace, a organization of Jewish scholars against Zionism, provided a letter of support in October 2017 urging the court to dismiss the case, claiming it was based on a distorted State Department’s interpretation of anti-Semitism.
It also said no Title IX complaint relying on this interpretation of anti-Semitism has been sustained in court.
“[The Department of Education] dismissed cases against University of California (UC) Irvine, UC Santa Cruz and UC Berkeley in 2013 and Rutgers in 2014 with written determination letters stating that the First Amendment protects speech critical of the state of Israel and that such speech does not constitute a civil rights violation,” the letter states.
Despite the administration’s refusal to provide additional comments, Abdulhadi said she is giving the administration the benefit of the doubt to do the right thing and show their support.
“Now that we have been vindicated,” she said. “I want to see SF State reinstate the AMED faculty alliance, build an AMED faculty program and I want people to stop harassing me so I can do my work.”