A professor at San Francisco State University has been cleared of accusations made by Israel-aligned groups of “misusing funds” by traveling to Palestine and Jordan earlier this year and meeting with Palestinian leaders and political figures.
Just days ago, San Francisco State University forcefully concluded that such accusations have “no merit” and that the university “will not censor our scholars nor condone censorship by others.” In addition, the dean of the college of Ethnic Studies has admonished the accusers for their “propaganda-style tactics.”
Dr. Rabab Abdulhadi, a senior scholar and associate professor of ethnic studies and race and resistance studies, has been the target of a months-long campaign led by the Santa Cruz-based Amcha Initiative, a Zionist watchdog group that harasses student Palestine solidarity activists and faculty members critical of Israel’s policies.
“Fundamental to scholarship”
Amcha and other Israel-aligned watchdog groups including the Simon Wiesenthal Center Campus Outreach, StandWithUs, the Zionist Organization of America and Scholars for Peace in the Middle East accused Abdulhadi in May of “misrepresenting” the nature of her trip and “neglect[ing] to inform” San Francisco State University officials of her planned meetings with Sheikh Raed Salah and Leila Khaled, whom Amcha and the other groups identify as “terrorists.”
They also accused the professor of “egregious abuse of university and taxpayer funds as well as potential violations of California state law prohibiting the use of state resources for personal or political purposes.”
Sheikh Raed Salah, a Palestinian citizen of Israel and a political and religious leader, has been a target of anti-Palestinian groups in the US and UK. He was arrested by British authorities on baseless charges in 2011, which were thrown out by a judge a year later. He has also been jailed multiple times by Israel.
In a public, eight-page statement she released last week, Abdulhadi writes: “My stated intention to research and network with scholars in the region and throughout the world is a legitimate and important use of state funding. As Senior Scholar at the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Initiative, it is part of my job duties to establish educational and research collaboration on Palestine and between Palestinians in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world. Research and discussion between actors in the US and Palestine is fundamental to my scholarship. It is one of the reasons why SFSU hired me in the first place.”
The professor adds that “meeting with diverse and controversial figures in Palestine furthered the educational purpose of the trip.” She notes that there is “no law or university regulation that prohibits meeting and speaking with figures seen as ‘controversial’ in US media and dominant discourses. Such activity is clearly protected under the First Amendment and is a necessary part of gathering and sharing information. Such encounters are the very lifeblood of academia, journalism and other fields of knowledge production and are also protected by academic freedom.”
In a brief statement released on 24 June, San Francisco State University and its president, Les Wong, say the university reviewed the allegations and has concluded that Amcha’s claims “have no merit.”
The university’s statement reads in full:
Recently the AMCHA Initiative, Simon Wiesenthal Center Campus Outreach and others have made allegations against Professor Rabab Abdulhadi regarding her travel. San Francisco State University takes allegations about the use of state funds seriously, investigates any issues and responds as appropriate.
The records for Professor Abdulhadi’s travel have been reviewed, and they comply with established rules without fault or violation. Therefore, we conclude that the allegations made against Professor Abdulhadi have no merit. The CSU’s Travel Procedures and Regulations can be viewed at: http://fiscaff.sfsu.edu/content/csu-travel-policy
Faculty can and do communicate with others relevant to their research, communicating by various methods that can involve travel. Professor Abdulhadi’s academic work in race and resistance studies requires examination of some of the world’s most challenging and controversial issues. San Francisco State University will continue to respect academic freedom, and we will not censor our scholars nor condone censorship by others.
San Francisco State University remains committed to providing a safe and civil campus environment that supports all members of its community.
In addition, the dean of the College of Ethnic Studies issued a statement of his own on 25 June, admonishing Amcha “for their continued ill intent and propaganda style tactics.”
“Historically, Amcha’s awareness of fact has not discouraged its unrelenting and mean-spirited attacks,” Dean Kenneth Monteiro says.
[F]or a number of years, Amcha has gone well beyond just expressing its views, and developed a reputation for misrepresentation of facts against individuals and institutions. Moreover, it appears to also try to provoke very powerful people to punish those with whom it disagrees. It has done that to individuals at San Francisco State University and campuses across California. Recently, Amcha has made a number of sensationalized and false claims about students and faculty at our campus. Further it has promoted these claims to sympathetic media. Most perniciously, it has lobbied powerful civic and private figures, including the state Governor and dozens of elected statewide and local leaders, encouraging them to punish individuals and institutions based on misleading or false claims.
… Sensationalized attacks based on incomplete or inaccurate information such as these (at times accompanied with requests for monetary donations) exploit the worst fears of many, causing unfair and unnecessary distress for both Amcha’s intended targets as well as its stated allies. Coupling misinformation instigation or direct attack academic organizations or individuals degrades the campus climate for all.
In January, The Electronic Intifada’s Asa Winstanley and I published an investigatory report on Amcha’s lengthy history of spying on student activists and faculty who support the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.
Amcha’s co-founder, Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, is a lecturer at the University of California at Santa Cruz. She has previously claimed that students involved in Palestine solidarity organizing have ties to “terrorist organizations” and that “many of them are foreign students who come from countries and cultures where anti-Semitism is how they think about the world.” Her racist statements were caught on video in 2012.
Students at University of California at Santa Cruz at the time called on the university to condemn her hate speech. The administration declined to comment and took no disciplinary action.
History of failure
Rossman-Benjamin and Amcha have targeted other professors in California who are outspoken in their criticism of Israel, accusing such educators of “anti-Semitism” and “misuse” of public resources. To date, none of these allegations have resulted in punishment of the professors. Meanwhile the group’s attempt to use civil rights law claims in order to shut down discussion on Israel was thrown out by the US government last year.
The National Lawyers Guild’s San Francisco Bay Area chapter stated in a recent letter to the University of California’s Board of Regents and the California State University Board of Trustees that Amcha’s history of “relentless bullying” of professors and educational institutions “can be foiled by universities issuance of clear, strong statements upholding principles of academic freedom in general, and discussion of Israel-Palestine in particular — and by promptly rejecting the unconstitutional demands by Amcha and others whenever they occur.”
“Series of incidents”
Lawyers with the Palestine Solidarity Legal Support, which has supported Dr. Abdulhadi in protecting her freedom of research and scholarship, stated in a press release that “Amcha’s attack was the latest in a series of incidents intended to stifle and criminalize any and all discussion of Palestine or Palestinians.”
Since San Francisco State University’s rejection of the accusations this week, Amcha says that it has now demanded, along with the other Israel-aligned watchdog groups, that the California State Controller conduct a state audit of the university.
In the Palestine Solidarity Legal Support press release, Abdulhadi says: “All over California, the Amcha Initiative’s accusations have repeatedly proven to be all smoke and no fire. SFSU President Wong’s statement confirms there was no wrongdoing here. But we must do more to protect California scholars from Amcha’s McCarthyist campaigns, which aim to strait-jacket Ethnic Studies scholars, especially those studying Palestine.”