Anti-Academia at San Francisco State University

Professor Abdulhadi routinely violates the freedom of students from political indoctrination by their professors.
January 13, 2021
San Francisco State University – John Paul Leonard Library (Photo by Webbi1987/Wikimedia Commons)

Fresh off the heels of their failed attempt to host convicted Palestinian terrorist Leila Khaled for an online event, the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Studies Department (AMED) at San Francisco State University (SFSU) held a November 29 panel titled “From Colonization to Solidarity: Narratives of Defeat and Sumoud.” The event, led by AMED Professor Rabab Abdulhadi, included a panel of speakers promoting numerous falsehoods about Israel and tarnishing the integrity of academia.

Although this event did not feature any convicted terrorists, many of the panelists have deeply concerning affiliations with terrorism. First, Eyewitness Palestine, a cosponsor of the event, has been documented bringing American peace activists to Israel and housing them in the homes of members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a U.S.-designated terrorist organization. Two of the panel’s speakers, Omar Barghouti and Dr. Haidar Eid, are members of the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC), whose members include the Council of National and Islamic Forces in Palestine, itself comprised of five U.S.-designated terrorist organizations. A third panelist, Mahmoud el-Ali, also has connections to the PFLP.

This is nothing new. For years, university campuses have opened their doors to a bevy of terrorists and terror supporters, including the PFLP’s Rasmeah Odeh, Khaled, Palestinian Islamic Jihad spokesperson Khader Adnan and scores of other individuals.

What was striking about this SFSU event, however, was the overt attempt to inject radicalism onto campuses under the patina of academia. There was no intellectual exchange of ideas nor exchange of facts; it was all narrative, no substance. Witness, for instance, when Eid boasted that he participated in the First Intifada. At the onset of the event, Professor Abdulhadi invited students to submit academic assignments based on the ensuing discussion. But when the discussion is presented without counterarguments, the assignment becomes a form of encouraging students to adopt the panel’s point of view.

The most recurring point raised by the panel was the insistence that Israel is an apartheid state. Yet, none of the panelists offered any evidence of this. Indeed, Barghouti’s claim that “apartheid is alive and kicking in Tel Aviv” did not address the Israeli Declaration of Independence’s guarantee of equality rights to “all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex,” the fact that the Joint Arab List is the third-largest party in Israel’s parliament and that Arabs, Christians and Druze serve in the military and judiciary. Likewise, Israel is not imposing an apartheid in the West Bank. While Palestinians certainly have a different status than Israeli-Arabs, the distinction is based on national lines, not racial ones; definitionally, this is not apartheid. Inaccurately labeling Israel an apartheid state belittles those who did suffer the horrors of apartheid, as was South Africa until the 1990s.

The panel eventually descended into anti-Semitism. Towards the end, co-moderator Saliem Shehadeh implied the anti-Semitic canard that Israel is somehow responsible for police brutality in the United States. Panelist Samia Khoury also veered into anti-Semitism when she alluded that Israel merely invokes the Holocaust in order to make its detractors feel guilty and deflect criticism. Barghouti accused Israel of promulgating a new version of anti-Semitism that allows hatred of Jews as long as people still love Israel.

This type of radicalism is not relegated to a single classroom; it spills over onto the rest of campus. At SFSU, Jewish students are demonized for their membership in Hillel, a Jewish campus organization with no affiliation to Israel. Moreover, in November 2020, SFSU’s student government passed a resolution demanding the university divest from more than 100 companies that operate in the West Bank.

Beyond her participation in the panel, Professor Abdulhadi has continued to promote this hatred. In 2018, she stated that Zionist students should not be permitted to study at SFSU. On December 8, 2020, she retweeted a post supporting the First Intifada, and on January 5, 2021, she retweeted the libel about Israel’s vaccine distribution. She took action beyond Twitter on December 21, when she filed a claim against the California State University system arguing that by not providing an alternative platform for her webinar with Khaled (which Zoom deplatformed), the CSU system was infringing on her academic freedom and right to free speech.

Professor Abdulhadi has continued to promote this hatred.

Of course, neither of these freedoms apply to supporting terrorism, which is why Zoom admirably nixed the event. Furthermore, Professor Abdulhadi routinely violates another type of academic freedom, one she seems to care far less about: the freedom of students from political indoctrination by their professors. Is it just a coincidence that one of the most notoriously anti-Israel campuses in the country is also home to one of the most notorious anti-Israel professors? Maybe, but not likely.

Oftentimes, these anti-Israel become radical professors themselves, as was displayed during SFSU’s panel by co-moderators Saliem Shehadeh and Omar Zahzah, both Ph.D. candidates who were active in groups like Students for Justice in Palestine and the Palestinian Youth Movement during their studies.

People have the sacred right to speak freely as individuals — that is nonnegotiable. But teachers also have a sacred duty to provide their students with the best education they can get, devoid of political prejudice. When public universities like SFSU allow professors to brainwash students by creating academic assignments based on their own political activism, they violate this sacred duty. The academic community must demand that Professor Abdulhadi and her department are held responsible for polluting their classrooms with such anti-academic activity and break their cycle of indoctrination.

Eitan Fischberger is a campus adviser at the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA) and veteran of the Israeli Air Force. Follow him on Twitter @EFischberger.

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