Podcast Ep 55: How to fight university censorship

On episode 55, we speak with professors Rabab Abdulhadi and Tomomi Kinukawa of San Francisco State University about their ongoing fight against attempts to silence Palestine scholarship.

Last fall, a faculty panel found that the university failed to protect Abdulhadi from censorship by Zoom, which canceled a September 2020 event Abdulhadi and Kinukawa had organized.

That event featured South African anti-apartheid activists and Palestinian feminist icon Leila Khaled.

In February, another faculty panel once again sided with Abdulhadi in a grievance hearing.

The panel supported her demand for the university to fulfill its obligations to her Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas (AMED) studies and to end the hostile work environment to which she has been subjected for more than a decade.

The university’s president vetoed both recommendations by the faculty panels, forcing the complaints into a lengthy process of legal arbitration.

SF State is “creating all sorts of technical difficulties, using every single bureaucratic trick in the book,” Abdulhadi says.

“Those of us who actually work on Palestine, clearly, we know what this is. This is called creating facts on the ground, which we know that Israel is doing in its colonialism, racism and apartheid against the Palestinian people.”

Last month, another grievance hearing was held following a complaint by Kinukawa against the university’s cancellation of the AMED open classroom program.

Having to endure constant interference by university officials, Kinukawa says, has taken a toll.

“It was very clear that [top administrators] were using the language of the Zionists … and they are repeating what the Zionist organizations claim, [while] they say they are champions of academic freedom,” Kinukawa notes.

The US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI) has initiated a petition demanding that SFSU president Lynn Mahoney resign.

USACBI says that more than 800 people have signed on, including notable academics such as former UN rapporteur for Palestine Richard Falk, Cornel West, Robin DG Kelley, J. Kehaulani Kauanui and Ilan Pappe.

“What is happening at SFSU is emblematic of a nationwide phenomenon of right-wing targeting of higher education,” the group says.

Abdulhadi has long been a target of Israel lobby harassment and censorship by university administrations.

Recently, students with Cardozo on Israel and Palestine, a group at the Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University in New York City, say they were forced to cancel a March event with Abdulhadi after the university’s president intervened and shut down the event.

Cardozo law students are committed to reversing the president’s decision, Abdulhadi says.

“I’m working with the students hand in hand, and they are amazing – two young feminist activist women who are bearing the brunt of this and the silencing, and they’re very courageous, and they’re doing it,” Abdulhadi said.

“We’re going to have the event at Yeshiva University.”

Articles we discussed

Video production by Tamara Nassar

Theme music by Sharif Zakout

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Full transcript

Lightly edited for clarity.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: Welcome back to The Electronic Intifada Podcast. I’m Nora Barrows-Friedman. Mondoweiss reported that in February, “a faculty panel unanimously sided with Professor Rabab Abdulhadi at San Francisco State University in a grievance she filed through her union, the San Francisco State chapter of the California Faculty Association. Abdulhadi’s grievance reiterated her demand for SF State to fulfill its outstanding commitment to build Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Studies, or AMED studies, by hiring two additional tenure track faculty members, institutionally supporting the department, stopping the attempt to discredit AMED and ending the creation of the hostile work environment to which Rabab has been subjected for at least 13 years for her directorship of AMED and her refusal to abandon it.” Thanks to Mondoweiss for first reporting on that.

And in early March, Rabab’s colleague Professor Tomomi Kinukawa also held a grievance hearing against the university’s cancellation of the AMED Open Classroom program. Meanwhile, Rabab still faces cancellation and censorship. Students at Cardozo for Israel Palestine, a group at the Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University in New York City, say they had planned and advertised for an event with Rabab called “forms of activism for liberation in Palestine,” scheduled for March 1.

Students say “we sought to provide a platform for students on ways to collaborate with other lawyers, scholars and organizers in activist and intellectual spaces regardless of student’s professional pursuits.” But less than a week before the event, the Dean of Cardozo informed them that the president of Yeshiva University moved to cancel the event without their consent. They say “we then discovered that the school cancelled our room reservation and catering order as well.” Joining us to talk about all of this are Rabab Abdulhadi and Tomomi Kinukawa. Rabab and Tomomi, thank you so much for being with us on The Electronic Intifada Podcast. Welcome back.

Rabab Abdulhadi: Thank you for having us, it’s really great to be back.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: So as I mentioned, there have been updates in your grievance hearings against San Francisco State because of the ongoing censorship and repression of your department, the university’s faculty senate rendered its unanimous decision in support of both your grievances Rabab, and this one includes regarding your academic freedom as well as contract violations and creating a hostile work environment, only to have them both vetoed by the university’s president Lynn Mahoney. And this is all because the Israel lobby has for years targeted you and your colleagues because of the work that you do for scholarship on Palestine, both grievances now will go to legal arbitration, which could be a very lengthy process, what happens now? Give us an update on your case.

Rabab Abdulhadi: Well, let me back up and just say that it was actually the faculty hearing panel – it’s very important, because it’s a process that’s part of our collective bargaining agreement. When we as faculty, workers at the university and the employer, employees and employers; and sometimes the university tries to present us that we are one big happy family. And we’d love nothing more as faculty because we chose the career of teaching, to educate, to educate, to learn to pass on our knowledge to younger people, and so on. It’s not really for fame or fortune, as everybody knows that. So the problem – the faculty hearing panel what’s really, really important about it is that it’s selected randomly by faculty who serve at their own time. And three, while the university is represented by people from university who actually get paid, including the witnesses that the university brings, the deans, the associate deans, the dean of faculty, the provost, anybody they bring are actually – and so that in that already, we’re talking about the big discrepancy, but the fact the faculty hearing panel that is constituted jointly by the university and the union, so it’s a very lengthy process is very, very complicated lengthy process that the – and we know some people we do not know everybody. And so it’s basically that they go just down the line and they select and then unless there are major objections we don’t know.

So the fact that our colleagues came and said this is really wrong twice. First, they said that the university harmed me and my colleague, Professor Kinukawa in shutting down our open classroom agenda, “Whose Narrative? Gender, justice and resistance: a conversation with Leila Khaled,” September 23, 2020, demanded that they apologized to us that university apologize to us. And immediately – first, they said that we were harmed because the university was arguing that we were not harmed. And I think this is something we really need to talk about. Because our labor, our work, the amount of anguish we go through is completely discounted, and what we, what we have to go through which Professor Kinukawa can also speak about because they have their own grievance as well, which is joined with mine. And secondly, that the university should apologize to us both. And third, that the university should have the panel ASAP without delay.

This is – they’re very reasonable, they’re not really outrageous claims or demands, or this is the first one in academic freedom, especially because President Mahoney keeps claiming that she supports academic freedom. And people praise her for speaking for academic freedom. And so if she’s speaking for academic freedom, why are her deeds against academic freedom? And when the – when the faculty panel came that was chosen by the university and the union to say, you really should do that, the university president vetoed, vetoed it and said, I’m against it. Why would you veto it? Why aren’t you allowing it to happen? The second grievance was as you mentioned, it was around AMED studies and the breach of contract and the hostile work environment. And the university enlisted the Dean of the College of Ethnic Studies, the Associate Dean of the College of Ethnic Studies, and the dean of faculty who came and practically spontaneous which the faculty panel saw through and we provided evidence.

And I should say in the first hearing, I was represented by my colleague, Dr. Sang Hea Kil, who is a professor at San Jose State University, who won her own grievances over the constitution of a hostile work environment, for discrimination against feminists and queer professors of color and so on. Actually, one, our colleague two weeks ago also won a grievance at San Jose State University. It’s outrageous what’s going on at our campuses. And then the second panel, I was represented by Professor Hanley, a professor of English and a member of the Executive Board of the faculty, California Faculty Association, San Francisco State chapter. So both are actually academics. They’re not lawyers. They’re not really legal experts. But it was also a team effort by many people who came together, put this together, we work with each other. And everybody – it was really a labor of love.

And what the university president did basically slapped us across the face. I mean, the second one said, No, we’re not going to – we’re against it, we’re not going to and they, what they what they did is they use technicalities, they’ll say, Oh, you could have filed this again, 42 days afterwards, and so on. And the faculty hearing panel saw through it and said, the hostile work environment is ongoing. The fact that you’re refusing to hire faculty is ongoing, because AMED is not allowed to grow. And I am – the university is causing me harm, and they ordered the university to apologize as well. And actually, what’s really significant is they ordered the university to hire at the associate and full professor level, because they were reasoning that if the university had hired 15 years ago, the faculty members would now be able to deal with even assistant professors just out of grad school – that, you know, sometimes you hire people on the promise that they will get the PhD, even if they were hired out of grad school, by now they would have become associate and full professor.

And actually, this is the case at San Francisco State. So they saw through it, and they sought remedies that addressed structural problems that AMED studies must be built, that we need faculty that it is impossible for me to continue to be a one-person program, that I’m not only building the academic program that I’m teaching alone. And now I mean, in the same dilemma, I submitted the courses for the fall and for the spring of next year, and I’m still being kind of like a volleyball between different parts of the university. And the only explanation we can find and the only explanation that actually fits with the hearing panel was convinced with, as well as many people who are reading about it and hearing, is that the university is putting obstacles, creating all sorts of technical difficulties using every single bureaucratic trick in the book, using quote-unquote business as usual business decisions and I mean, those of us who actually work on Palestine, clearly, we know what this is.

This is called creating facts on the ground, which we know that Israel is doing in its colonialism, racism, and apartheid against the Palestinian people – you come up with sort of innocuous forms, where there’s thousands and thousands of orders. And then you say, oh, it’s only technical, it’s technical. None of it is really intended to be discriminatory or racist or whatever. It’s technical, but actually, but the beauty is that the faculty hearing panel saw through that, and said that this is what needs to be done.

So that’s really, really too big a measure. We believe one of them has to do about the ability to speak on and advocate for justice and for Palestine as part of the indivisibility of the justice and legitimizing teaching Palestine, within the curriculum, which, you know, it has been an ongoing battle, because the Zionist groups and their right-wing allies – And by the way, we should also remember, that wasn’t just Zionist groups who were very much opposing, it was the Zionist groups, it was the corporate university, San Francisco State University president and their corporate allies, including Zoom. And it was also the right-wing groups, because we’ve been targeted by Campus Reform, by every single right-wing group, Christian United for Israel. I mean, they all – Doug Lamborn who’s a right-wing congressman from Colorado, this and I mean, it’s been really and I know, my colleague, Tomomi can speak more about that what we were subjected to, so it’s – this is a coalition.

We’re talking about people who are on the right, who actually practice advocate racism, Orientalism, Islamophobia, and we would argue what Dr. Kinukawa and I call colonial feminism. This is really also colonial feminism that draws on all the tropes of how Arab, Muslim and Palestinian women men, gender non-binary, the feminist and queer groups and so on, we are constructed as being excessively terroristic, bloodthirsty, irrational, angry terrorists, and exceedingly homophobic, exceedingly sexist. I mean, this is kind of like the university, the head university leaders did that. And I would just maybe stop at that. And because I know, Professor Kinukawa and I have been in kind of like an ongoing conversation.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: Thank you Rabab. Yeah, Tomomi, talk to us about the hearing that you were subjected to earlier in March. And, you know, kind of how you see the reactionary forces inside academia inside the Israel lobby inside these right-wing groups that Rabab mentioned all kind of coalescing to try and stifle speech about Palestine in your classroom?

Tomomi Kinukawa: Yes, thank you. So I filed my own grievance that is identical with Dr. Abdulhadi’s grievance about the silencing of our open classroom. And on March 18th, this year, I finally got the hearing for that grievance. And prior to that, as Dr. Abdulhadi mentioned, like when the faculty panel unanimously ruled in favor of Dr. Abdulhadi’s grievance for a moment I thought maybe I don’t have to continue my grievance. But then, President Mahoney vetoed it, and so, and then again, for the second grievance, Dr. Abdulhadi’s second grievance again. And so that that kind of creates, that’s the context of my grievance. And so what – starting with what we have to go through, I think – in response to what Dr. Abdulhadi already described, I think what I would add is that it’s like the, from the very beginning, like with President Mahoney and also Provost Summit, it was very clear that they were using the language of the Zionists and sending us the threatening email without even checking with their own lawyers, and they are repeating what the Zionist organizations claimed and they just like, they said like they are like the champion of academic freedom while they have no – like they have shown any they had shown no help to protect our academic freedom.

And then especially they didn’t like they – like they knew that like the Lawfare Project, which was the organization that brought our case to the Department of Justice, you know, accusing us of material support for terrorism. That organization has been attacking Dr. Abdulhadi for a long time, and the university had the full knowledge of it. But they have never criticized that organization, their racist attack on Dr. Abdulhadi and AMED, and then they continue to kind of use the Zionist conflation between critique of the, like, apartheid state of Israel with anti-Semitism. And they never – there is a lot of, like, the anti-Zionist Jewish scholars and activists who have been making the point for a long time in public, and also on SFSU’s campus too, Dr. Abdulhadi organized like teach-ins and open classrooms about the issue, and also, our colleagues, who were also panelists for the open classroom wrote to president Mahoney, about the whole issue.

And so it’s not like they didn’t know, but they did, they chose not to critique, and I mean, make the points and – as a feminist scholar, it is disappointing, to say the least. But it is also embarrassing intellectually, and so that the fact that we had to deal with that, and then we had to kind of work really hard to counter that discrediting of our work by the leaders of our institution, that’s been – that’s been a huge toll on us. And so we had to defend ourselves. And we were put in the position to be defending ourselves in front of our students in front of our colleagues who are very much confused, right, because, you know, this high power, and again, academics were siding with Zionists.

And so, so that’s a violence that we had to go through and like and also, and then, if, through that experience, this only a tip of the iceberg that gets the silencing of the open classroom – it is only a part of the pattern that has going on for over 15 years. And against Dr. Abdulhadi and AMED and like this astronomical labor that Dr. Abdulhadi had to put in to protect AMED so that the like the amazing program will continue to be available for our students, communities, all of us.

The university has been doing that in itself, like it’s very difficult to believe it, and emotional labor has – we had to suffer from that emotional labor and like trauma from this whole experience. And so sorry, going to – so back to my grievance hearing, so it took a while for me to be able to actually have the hearing, there were a lot of postponements and so forth. But then on March 18, is finally there was the hearing and everything on our team was going well. Dr. Kil was already mentioned who represented me and we were presenting a strong case. And we are – the chair of the faculty hearing panel for Dr. Abdulhadi’s grievance, Dr. Andreana Clay, who was one of the witnesses.

And so she offered a witness very strong, powerful witness in support of us. And so we, we got here. I did the opening statement, and then we had Dr. Clay’s testimony and Dr. Kil’s presentation. And but then the hearing had to be adjourned abruptly. Because the university representative’s father passed away suddenly. And so we had to adjourn. And so the – and then since then it’s been almost two weeks, but I have not heard from the university, like how we are going to reschedule the rest of the hearing. So everything is kind of – I’m very much confused how the process will happen. And we are still waiting to hear back from the administrators how we are going to proceed from here.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: And if like, in Rabab’s case, the faculty panel agrees with your grievance and upholds it and says that the university has done harm to you, as a professor and as a scholar. Lynn Mahoney, the president of San Francisco State can veto it at her will anyway. So we’re dealing with like, two, three cases going to arbitration. And this is all to, you know, be able to teach in your classrooms, to your students who want to learn from you. You know, when you kind of take a step back and, you know, look at it from a broader perspective.

I mean, this is all meant this is a very, you know, regular, familiar tactic with the Israel lobby, with powerful politicians who want to suppress, you know, criticism of Israel, where they try and make activists, advocates, scholars, so tired and so weary and so frustrated that they’re spending, you know, more than a decade of their life and scholarly work dedicated to filling out forms and going to grievance hearings. You know, it’s all meant to kind of wear you down. I was going to ask, like, how you deal with that?

Rabab Abdulhadi: Yeah, I mean, I was just actually thinking about during the 1987 intifada of the stone and I always say, I don’t say intifada, first and second, and you know, my, my argument about that, that it wasn’t the first people call it the first. Okay. But you remember, that Yitzhak Rabin, at the time, the Minister of War of Israel, not defense, ordered the policy of might force and beatings to break the arms of young Palestinian children.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: Yeah, the breaking the bones policy. Yeah.

Rabab Abdulhadi: Breaking the bones to take them out of battle. So they would not – first intimidation, creating a chilling environment, and also take them out for three, four months until the arms heal. And then and we saw we saw it on CBS News, actually two Israeli soldiers breaking the elbow of a young kid, that they were doing it again and again and again. And there is all these tactics that we talk about, collective punishment, because I think if we think about it, there are parallels. It’s not the, of course, of course, it’s not exactly the same, but they remind us of how those in power, who are opposing undemocratic, unjust practices because they are catering and connecting with particular forces.

And it certainly – this is what the San Francisco State University administration is doing, whether we’re talking about president Lynn Mahoney, we’re talking about Provost Summit, we’re talking about the deans, several deans who’ve been involved in, whether we talk about the whole CSU system that just two weeks ago, we know about the whole scandal of actually giving a sweetheart deal to the chancellor Castro, who was covering up sexual harassment. And meanwhile they say, oh, San Francisco, CSU is a sexual harassment-free campus and so on. If it is free campus, how come you’re giving him these millions of dollars as if you are rewarding him with a consolation prize and if it hasn’t been for the activism of the faculty, the students, the staff, unions, the unions, and so on, who spoke up and so on.

The next day, there was a hearing at CSU last week with the Board of Trustees. That’s when then they had to reverse their decision and so on. But they think of it as business as usual, because they’re treating us as a corporation. It is sort of like that we’re working for them. And we’re supposed to obey. And they are supposed to say jump, and we say how high and this is exactly the same thing that they are doing what they are, and this is – I’m saying, and I’m bringing it in because people sometimes separate. They think that the universe is a different space than the Israel lobby, than the right-wing forces and so on, because I think we could also just like briefly, this is not the topic here. We don’t have enough time.

But remember, what happened when the uprisings rose up for Black lives again, after the murder of George Floyd? You remember how the people who were protesting were called thugs, were called looters, were called all sorts of names, violent, angry, angry mobs and so on. I mean, this has – this is very similar tactics, ruin the reputation of people, character assassination, badmouth them, bring the tanks they brought in the tanks and tear gas and curfews. We know this very well, those of us who either work on Palestine or have grown up or under other repressive systems, because it’s not exceptional to Palestine. It’s something that we’re dealing with and focusing on.

But this is what they are, they perfected that and they collaborate with each other. I mean, only two weeks ago, Jewish Voice for Peace in New York exposed the Anti-Defamation League, saying, Oh, this is really very bad, this is – forgive getting us egg on our faces, we might we really need to kind of slow down this whole collaboration and so on but they cannot slow it down, they may be able to do it as public relations, because the whole reason that of Israel is a military garrison state, it’s a settler-colonial military, that is losing the battle in public opinion, that is losing the main source of its support in the United States, the United States is a very important place, not only because of the billions of dollars of military and economic aid and unconditional support that Israel gets, and how, but it’s also because for the for, for Israel to lose and for designers to lose the grassroots support.

There’s growing more and more and more, more and more and more among all people. But more and more and more among Jewish people among younger Jewish people as well, that are saying, No, you can’t, you can’t speak in my name, what you’re doing is not in my name. So what they’re trying to do they do these multiple tactics that we’ve seen before, chilling environment, making you isolated, radioactive, so nobody will actually dare talk to you. Because if they’re going to be punished as well, making you the poster child, the model to kind of like silence everybody else. And we know so many cases in the academy, we know so many cases of the students and so on. It’s inside and outside of the academy coincides with all the anti-BDS bills and against critical race theory, against women and gender studies every single day, we’ll hear about it. And the one thing that’s really important about the movement now is that people are actually seeing the connection.

It has been a very long time before people actually saw the connection. We’re saying Palestine is not exceptional and Zionist lobby, Israel lobby, as well as the US right-wing supporters and liberal neoliberal corporate supporters try to cover up for Israel by making it exceptional – it’s separate is different. It’s the only democracy in the region. And we know, all of this stuff is not really true. And we don’t want to waste time on it. But what they’re trying to do then is what they can do is silence, silence people and silence people at the university where we are speaking to people’s minds. We are providing critical thinking, we’re not really telling students to do it.

I mean, they tried multiple times to say I’m brainwashing students and students come and say even Israeli students, Zionist students said, I took her class and I did really well I got an A, it’s not about – I did my work. Okay, because I am I’m in it. We are AMED is just a center of knowledge production program, it’s defined as such, it’s approved as such, every single level, including by CSU, all of it. So this is a program that maybe now they regret that they allowed it, allowed us to actually advocate for it and get it so they would like to silence it because it is – they don’t want to legitimize knowledge production within campuses, where we are speaking to younger people where we are teaching, we’re providing all of the information.

So students don’t know we didn’t know. They didn’t know about slavery, they did not know about settler-colonialism. This is part of why the ‘68 strike what we call the spirit of ‘68 at San Francisco State by Black student union, Third World Liberation Front grows and build the big coalition and so on they want to nip it in the bud, they don’t want to allow another ‘68 to happen. They are very much troubled by it. So they try to silence us because Israel is failing in its public relations, it is unable to justify what it’s doing. So bullies, as we all know, do not go away. They get nastier and nastier, and nastier and they try to crush and so their policy now is take no prisoners. They’re not only they do all of these things to you and make your life miserable. And direct at you all sorts of psychological, emotional, political, bureaucratic, every single trick in the book that they can do.

But they also tried to take you out, so you cannot advocate for what you are doing. So this also adds more labor to us. Because in our insistence to have open classrooms, our insistence to speak to our public, to our students inside and outside of the classroom, but one where my dean told me that the classroom is only for the students who are registered in it, ie those who pay, I said, I’m sorry, I believe in free education for all. And the students are not only inside, also as the Palestinians say, prison is the university.

But it’s not only I mean, this is the saying in Palestine. But if you talk about the Black prisoners in the US, you’re talking about indigenous prisoners, you’re talking about all the people who fight for freedom in prison, people also change and learn. And we have so many examples of that. So they would like to stop it. And they will act. So this takes much more work of us to do that. And so they get they get nastier and nastier. And so the good news for us is that they’re losing. The bad news is that it takes so much work, and it takes so much, and it’s intended as such, none of it is accidental, none of it is random, what they tried to do to us. I mean, we’ve been two years this, this has been since 2020. And we haven’t been able to have the classroom. And every single time we try to do a classroom. Dr. Kinukawa and I will collaborate, we’re doing another classroom in two weeks about historical denialism, about Japanese historical denialism, and Zionist historical denialism about Palestine, comfort women, the collaboration, because we all have like a lot of solidarity and collaboration working with each other in the Bay Area, and elsewhere. And it takes so much effort, because we have no resources.

I mean, AMED has zero budget. Yesterday, the financial Dean of the College sent me a message saying, Oh, we’re going to give you more money. We are raising your work-study from $1,800 a year. $1800. We’re giving you $500 more. Thank you so much. When we don’t have staff, we don’t have a budget. We don’t have faculty, I’m the only faculty member, you want to schedule our classes. And then you come and say and that’s what they argue that our classes are low enrolled, you keep chipping away at us.

You do – you mislabel the classes, you keep switching them, you hide them, hiding classes, hiding what does and how’s our students going to be able to register for hidden classes, the – where are they going to find it? You do all of this stuff, you chop up everything, and then you blame the victim for actually trying to speak up for themselves by trying to present us as angry terrorists or too uppity.

We’re demanding things that we shouldn’t have, we should just obey and be so grateful that we are getting these overworked positions. And we’re in it because we love our student students. We are in it because we believe in it. And the good news is that our colleagues, our faculty, colleagues, the union, the labor movement, people are actually very much like aware of learning more and more and more, so it’s backfiring on them. So President Mahoney is very upset, because the union has written several statements against her and criticized her and said that she was undemocratic.

And I just want to mention something, this is also built upon two years ago, the students, there are associated students, student government passed a resolution for divestment from Israel. And President Mahoney wrote them back – they deliberated for six months. And they came with the democratic decision. And she said to me, I’m sorry, I’m not going to implement it. I mean, so what’s the point of actually democratic participation, and they claim that we are coming from oppressive, repressive dictatorial contexts and so on. So what are you doing here? What are you doing here? When you refuse to even implement decisions that are taken by a process that you agreed to start?

Nora Barrows-Friedman: Right, at a public university? Right?

Rabab Abdulhadi: That’s supposed to be for the public.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: That’s right. Yeah. Well, we only have a few minutes left. Rabab and Tomomi I wonder if you can just kind of briefly comment on what happened at Yeshiva University. Rabab you were invited to speak there. And then the president of the law school or the president of the entire university itself, decided to cancel the entire event without any explanation. You know, this is yet another campaign to silence and censor Palestinian narratives and even any sort of discussion on Palestinian rights. What are the students doing about it and how do you see this situation taking place?

Rabab Abdulhadi: And it’s also backfiring just like what’s happening at San Francisco State, they try to silence us. And then everybody realizes what’s going on. And we actually garner more support than we ever had before. So these two young Jewish second-year law students contacted me back in October.

And we’ve been talking again and again, and they wanted to invite me and I said, Can you at least contribute to AMED? Can you at least contribute to the work we’re doing? And so this, they said, We have no money. So I’ll just do it for you. No problem. And so we went, we negotiate when we get to the point where I was supposed to go, and they wanted me to zoom in. And I said, No, I will come actually in person, because it’s not doesn’t make sense for the students to be gathered in the room and have somebody zoomed in. Since I am on the East Coast, I will come. And so we started actually thinking about security and talking about all our friends in Washington Heights in New York and so on, to be supportive. And then it was less than a week, the students, the two students get called by the Dean of the Cardozo Law School, and told that the president of Yeshiva University himself intervened and canceled the event. And they said, No, we don’t want to cancel it. So they called me and we talked about it.

And they said, We don’t want to cancel, but then they couldn’t actually have it. Because the university canceled the vending, the food, the dinner order that they had, and then they canceled the venue, they canceled the reservation. So it wasn’t actually even possible to have it. And the students, really courageous, young, which is also talks about the labor, they are doing human rights law, they’re second-year students, they’re very, very excited, what is going on the that they wrote an amazing statement. They contacted they had 13 student clubs supporting them. They circulated an internal petition, over 120 students, students are writing them and saying, What do you want? What do you want to do?

We were – now there are, they’re mobilizing a coalition that people different civil rights and legal organizations and Palestine support and Jewish Voice for Peace and many organizations actually supports, that are outraged because – and the thing is, is that Yeshiva actually hosted two very right-wing, right-wing violent racists. I mean, this is the thing is that I was accused of anti-Semitism several times and every single time all the investigation and so on prove – which is humiliating to even have to go through, but I was proven that this is not true. All the accusations were not true, and so on. And the students actually have done their work, because they’re law students, they’re learning to become lawyers. And so and then the university actually even said, we’re not going to, we’re not going to be hosting her.

And they invited me to speak about kind of like collaboration, how people can work together, what students think. So the question is that what are they afraid of? Yeah, I’m always What are you afraid of? So they are insisting – they’re building, they’re insisting to have me back. And I insist to go back. And I’m working with the students hand in hand and they are amazing, two young feminist activist women who are like bearing the brunt of this and the silencing, and they’re very courageous, and they’re doing it. So we’re going to have the event at Yeshiva university, as we’re going to have our classroom.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: Great. Finally, Tomomi, what can you say about, you know, the current atmosphere right now and what your students are telling you, in terms of, you know, when they see you going through this kind of harassment by the institution when all you’re doing is trying to teach your classes, you know, what, what do you tell them and, and, and what are the next steps that you know, supporters not just students at SF State, but supporters out in the general public can do to support both you and Rabab.

Tomomi Kinukawa: So, my students who got to attend AMED open classrooms, they all have been appreciating what they learned in the class and they have spoken very passionately, they – it actually transformed their understanding of you know, racial gender justice and like anti-colonial, decolonial movements and in Palestine, Muslim feminism and so forth, like and then feminism in general, like how those classrooms were already life-transforming for them. So when I tell them what happened in 2020 many of them are, students are – some of them are in disbelief. And then many of them do say it is unacceptable that that is happening on their campus.

And I think they relate to that through their own frustration about their experience on campuses throughout this pandemic time. And like many students, I mean, I teach women and gender studies courses, so I got to hear their more personal stories as a part of this feminist work, and so I think they do understand that it is like all their struggles. And like, you know, the, what we’re struggling with with AMED and Dr. Abdulhadi, those are all connected. And also, last year after the first veto by President Mahoney, alumni and students, graduate students, labor and also ‘68 strikers, all of them, and faculty members, got together and did a rally on campus in support of Dr. Abdulhadi and AMED.

And so there’s like a growing movement on campus, despite the fact that there’s a lot of repression on campus. And also, USACBI led a campaign to demand president Mahoney’s resignation. And then, I think Dr. Abdulhadi already mentioned how, like a San Francisco Labor Council also issued a resolution in support of us. And so I think it is – we are looking at the growing movement. And that’s – like our colleague like Dr. Robin Kelley, who was supporting USACBI’s campaign, mentioned that how what we are looking at is connected to what’s happening with critical race theory, ethnic studies and like what the President of SFSU, like the administration of SFSU is doing is making a very dangerous precedent in a very dangerous time. And so I think we really need to keep pressing and expanding our movements to support existing movements.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: Thank you. Thank you, Tomomi Kinukawa and Rabab Abdulhadi. Both professors at San Francisco State University and members of the AMED – or Rabab is the only member of the AMED studies program there at SF State. If people want to learn more about AMED studies and support both of you where can they go?

Rabab Abdulhadi: They can go – there is online there is the Campaign to Support Rabab Abdulhadi.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: Great, and we’ll link to it and we’ll also have it on the podcast post.

Rabab Abdulhadi: They signed the petition to demand the resignation of President Mahoney and holding accountability and demanding that San Francisco State implement the decisions by the faculty hearing panel. And attend the next hearing for my colleague Professor Tomomi Kinukawa, just come and support us show us love, show us support, show up for us when you need as we need to show up for all movements for justice.

Nora Barrows-Friedman: Absolutely. Thank you so much. Rabab Abdulhadi and Tomomi Kinukawa. Thank you for all of your work and your tireless work. I hope you get some rest soon.



Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).