SFSC – Letter to SF State re Academic Delegation to Palestine

To: Leslie Wong, President San Francisco State University

Timothy White, Chancellor California State University
Larry Mandel, CSU Vice Chancellor and Chief Audit Officer
Carrie Hemphill Reith, CSU Resource Attorney for Conflict of Interest & Governance

May 31, 2014

Dear President Wong,

Our organization, The Seriously Free Speech Committee is committed to defending free expression of views on Palestine and Israel. Because our members are concerned about the growing intimidation, censorship and legal threats against individuals and organizations for criticizing Israel’s occupation and racist policies, we are writing to express our concern with the inflammatory statements in a March letter to you from the AMCHA Initiative and widely circulated by their network.

Serious accusations in the letter are wielded against San Francisco State University faculty members, particularly Dr. Rabab Abdulhadi, for their participation in an academic and labour delegation to Palestine earlier this year. According to AMCHA, the delegates’ trip and subsequent efforts to hold a follow-up event at the university are evidence that Abdulhadi “condones terrorism”. The letter urges you to “conduct your own investigation of [this event] and the anti-Israeli boycott delegation that it showcased, in order to determine whether faculty behavior such as Prof. Abdulhadi’s is compromising the campus climate for Jewish and Israeli students at SFSU.”

More recently, on May 27th, AMCHA struck again. In another letter to you and the SFSU administration, new charges relating to the tour were added with “egregious abuse of taxpayer funds” added to the list of accusations against Abdulhadi.

Rather than give credence to AMCHA’s frivolous assertions and demands, the SFSC hopes you will consider the broader context of AMCHA’s criticism. The BDS movement, sparked by an increasing awareness and focus on the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine and denial of fundamental legal and human rights denied to Palestinians, is rapidly gaining momentum. As a result, defenders of Israel’s Zionist project consistently attempt to deny not only the truth of Israeli colonialism but the collaboration of the American and Canadian state, to control the media, shape public opinion, and silence discussion on university campuses.

AMCHA’s letters reflect what has been the most successful tool of this concerted effort to suppress open discussion-erroneously conflating criticism of the state of Israel with anti-semitism, prejudice, discrimination and hatred of Jewish people.

Israel’s fear of the BDS movement is commensurate with the growing delegitimization of its occupation, expansion of settlements and siege of Gaza. Those who defend free speech must challenge this assault on academic freedom, this denial of travel and exchange of ideas between professors, this censorship of discussion of all forms of racism-including the fundamental racism of the Israeli state.

What should be of real concern to administrators of a modern university is the treatment the delegation, led by Dr. Abdulhadi, received as they traveled from Jordan to Palestine. At an Israeli checkpoint they were held, interrogated and harassed by Israeli security for over 10 hours-forced to turn over cell phone information, provide information about travel to Arab countries, scholarly research, academic networks, political activities, personal information about family background, nationality and recent expressed support for BDS.

That Dr. Abdulhadi, founder of the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diaspora Initiative, should be criticized for promoting collaboration between her university and two of the most prestigious universities not only in Palestine but in the Middle East is preposterous and gives credence to “criminalizing resistance” as expressed in a recent article by Charlotte Kates…”With the potential for prosecution looming over politically active Palestinians, a new climate of fear has strongly suppressed organizing.” The case of Abdulhadi should then be seen as “part of an ongoing campaign of repression against the Palestinian and Arab communities in the US, and especially against Palestinians who remain connected to the struggle in their homeland.”

Our committee requests that rather than be swayed by the efforts of those who fear the free dissemination of information, you take all necessary precautions to maintain and protect a climate of free expression at your university.


Kathleen Copps

On behalf of the Seriously Free Speech Committee

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