Sixty organizations – Jewish, Christian, educational and civil-rights-focused – have demanded an immediate investigation of anti-Semitism at San Francisco State University (SFSU). For years, the campus has been a hostile environment for many in the university’s Jewish community. Jewish students have reported numerous acts of harassment, discrimination, intimidation and suppression of speech at the hands of anti-Zionist students and faculty. But this time, the discrimination is in plain view on a university social media platform.This incident began with a public apology, issued by SFSU President Leslie Wong to the Jewish community on campus, including an affirmation that Zionists are welcome at SFSU. The apology triggered a hateful and incendiary response on Facebook from SFSU Prof. Rabab Ibrahim Abdulhadi. Prof. Abdulhadi condemned President Wong’s apology as “a declaration of war against Arabs, Muslims, Palestinians and all those who are committed to an indivisible sense of justice on and off campus.” The campus was soon peppered with flyers and graffiti equating Zionism with racism and indicating that Zionists are not welcome at SFSU.
Initially posted on Abdulhadi’s personal page, her message was reposted on an official university site: the Facebook page for Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas (AMED) Studies, where Abdulhadi serves as program director and faculty member. “When an academic unit at a state university uses its official online presence to attack students on its campus for their religious beliefs, ethnic identity or political opinions, it is clearly out of control and must be stopped,” said the 60 Jewish, Christian, educational and civil rights organizations demanding an investigation into AMED in a letter to the chancellor and trustees of the California State University (CSU) system.This call to action was orchestrated by AMCHA Initiative, a non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to combating anti-Semitism at colleges and universities in the United States. AMCHA monitors more than 400 American college campuses for anti-Semitic activity. The organization recorded 655 known anti-Semitic incidents in 2017, and 134 so far in 2018.
In an interview with The Philadelphia Jewish Voice, Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, cofounder and director of AMCHA Initiative, said that “the rhetoric [in Abdulhadi’s posting] is profoundly irresponsible” and a potential “incitement to violence.” She added that it is “wildly unfair that this professor should tell Jewish students how to identify themselves” in terms of their connection to Zionism.Armed with the letter signed by the 60 organizations and photos of anti-Zionist graffiti on the SFSU campus, Rossman-Benjamin addressed the trustees of the CSU system at their bi-monthly meeting — and the response has been encouraging. In a message to the university community, President Wong wrote, “Dr. Abdulhadi’s post does not reflect the opinions, values, or policies of San Francisco State University.” He explained, “While she is entitled to voice her own opinion, it cannot be done in a way that implies university endorsement or association.” And, in an email to Rossman-Benjamin, Timothy White, chancellor of the CSU system wrote, “Professor Abdulhadi’s statement explicitly contradicts the principles of inclusion that are central to the values, mission and policies of San Francisco State and the California State University.” He added that SFSU is “updating its social media policies and practices to help prevent this type of situation and better safeguard the university’s web presence.”
Rossman-Benjamin recognizes and appreciates the steps being taken by the SFSU president and the CSU chancellor. However, she is also advocating for an investigation into the AMED program because she considers the post on the program’s Facebook page to be “symptomatic of a larger problem.” According to AMCHA Initiative, Abdulhadi has repeatedly used her position and the program’s educational resources to fund a steady drumbeat of virulently anti-Zionist events, speakers and classes, including those that condone terrorism and violence toward Israel and its supporters.
As Rossman-Benjamin points out, when the program director is posting such an extreme message on Facebook, we need to ask “what’s happening in the classrooms and conference halls.”
Photos provided by AMCHA Initiative.