During a guest lecture to a UCLA anthropology class on May 14, San Francisco State University Arab and Muslim Ethnicities Professor Rabab Abdulhadi called Zionists white supremacists.
Abdulhadi spoke to around 100 students in the Fowler lecture hall during a mandatory lecture for the Anthropology M144P: Constructing Race class, taught by Associate Professor Kyeyoung Park.
A Jewish student in the class, Shayna Lavi, told the Journal that Abdulhadi discussed Islamophobia at the beginning of the lecture then veered into a “rant” against Israel, which Lavi said included “a claim that those who support Israel want to ethnically cleanse the Middle East and those affiliated with Israel and pro-Israel organizations are white supremacists.”
Lavi added that Abdulhadi also said Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) “was attacked by AIPAC and all these pro-Israel organization because [Omar’s] Muslim,” and that the United States and Israel have “shared values” of “killing people, colonialism and white supremacy.”
Noting that there had never been any prior readings about the Israel-Palestinian conflict in the class, Lavi said, “It really threw me a loop because… most of these kids don’t know anything about the [Israel-Palestinian] conflict.”
Lavi said she raised her hand during the question-and-answer session and challenged Abdulhadi, saying she was “personally offended” that Abdulhadi “categorized pro-Israel students, Zionists and Jewish students as white supremacists.”
Abdulhadi then responded: “Thank you. That’s your opinion but you’re wrong. I stand with Jews who do not support Israel and I hope that Jews will disalign themselves with white supremacy.”
Lavi said she was crying, but Park dismissed her and told Lavi to come to her office hours after the lecture without offering a formal apology.
Another student, Viktorya Saroyan, told the Journal she was angry that Abdulhadi brought Lavi to tears, so Saroyan sent an email to Vice Chancellor for Equity, Inclusion and Law Jerry Kang about the matter, which was then forwarded to the Discrimination Prevention Office.
“This was hate speech, there is no other way of classifying it. Watching an educator belittle a student to tears with such blatant ignorance leaves me to question the values UCLA wishes to uphold.” — Viktorya Saroyan
“I am someone who is not a part of the Jewish community; regardless I wish to speak up,” Saroyan wrote in the May 14 email. “This was hate speech, there is no other way of classifying it. Watching an educator belittle a student to tears with such blatant ignorance leaves me to question the values UCLA wishes to uphold.”
Lavi also filed a complaint with the Discrimination Prevention Office on May 16. Both Lavi and Saroyan said Park apologized on May 16 for Abdulhadi’s lecture.
“[Abdulhadi] can say whatever she wants, but she shouldn’t be in the classroom,” Lavi said. “The keynote speaker for SJP (Students for Justice in Palestine) shouldn’t be a mandatory speaker for all students.”
Abdulhadi was the keynote speaker at National SJP’s conference at UCLA in November as well as at the 2017 National SJP conference.
Ricardo Vazquez, associate director of Media Relations at UCLA, told the Journal in an email that “several students” were concerned that Abdulhadi’s lecture “went beyond legitimate criticism of the State of Israel [and] into anti-Semitism. The University is committed to academic freedom as well as building an inclusive learning environment without discrimination and harassment. Senior leadership are aware of the concerns and are working together to learn more and to find a satisfying resolution. In accordance with university procedure, allegations of discrimination or harassment have been conveyed to the Discrimination Prevention Office.”
Anti-Defamation League Los Angeles Regional Director Amanda Susskind said in a statement to the Journal: “Students should be exposed to a wide range of ideas but if the guest lecturer equated Zionism with white supremacist ideology, as is alleged, that is not just an offensive point of view. It is indefensible, ignorant and revisionist.”
Associate Dean and Director of Global Social Action Agenda at the Simon Wiesenthal Center Rabbi Abraham Cooper similarly said in a statement to the Journal that Abdulhadi’s lecture was “another example of propaganda thinly disguised as academic/intellectual discourse,” as Abdulhadi “had no interest in engaging a student who dared to respectfully challenge her rabid anti-Semitism.”
StandWithUs Executive Director of Research and Strategy Max Samarov said in a statement to the Journal: “This professor is notorious for spreading hate about Israel and the Jewish people, and for whitewashing anti-Semitic rhetoric as merely ‘criticism of Israel’ or ‘anti-Zionism.’ We are proud of the students who had the courage to speak out and support their efforts to educate the class about anti-Semitism.”
Judea Pearl, chancellor professor of computer science at UCLA, National Academy of Sciences member and Daniel Pearl Foundation president, called on the UCLA’s Department of Anthropology to issue an apology “for slander made by one of its invited speakers who vilified the collective identity of many faculty and students at UCLA, associating Zionism and the State of Israel with ‘colonialism’ and ‘white supremacy.’ I find it hard to believe that an accredited UCLA department could overlook the long racist history of this invited speaker. Rabab Abdulhadi was the person who stood behind the exclusion of Zionist students from campus activities at California State University San Francisco, which has resulted in a lawsuit and an embarrassing legal settlement for her University.”
On Feb. 23, 2018, Abdulhadi wrote in a Facebook post that she was “ashamed” that SFSU President Leslie Wong said that Zionists were welcome on campus.
Park and Abdulhadi did not respond to the Journal’s requests for comment.