California State University Chancellor Timothy White said this week he would “explore all appropriate options” in response to a San Francisco State University professor who on Facebook described welcoming Zionists to her campus as “a declaration of war against Arabs, Muslims [and] Palestinians.”
In a March 26 email, White criticized SFSU associate professor Rabab Abdulhadi (who oversees the university’s Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas program, or AMED) for a Feb. 23 Facebook post, which she signed using her official university title and address.
“It carries the implication that it reflects the views of the university,” White wrote, “when in fact Professor Abdulhadi’s statement explicitly contradicts the principles of inclusion that are central to the values, mission and policies of [the university].”
White’s email was addressed to Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, a UC Santa Cruz humanities lecturer and leader of Amcha Initiative, which tracks campus anti-Semitism. She had organized a March 20 open letter to the chancellor signed by 60 Jewish and pro-Israel organizations, asking White to “thoroughly investigate AMED and its administration” in the wake of the Facebook post.
“This [response] is unprecedented on the part of [Chancellor White],” said Rossman-Benjamin, “especially because it was directed to faculty. It’s the first time we’ve actually gotten an indication that faculty behavior is inappropriate.”
This is the latest volley in an ongoing campus controversy pitting Jewish and pro-Israel students, faculty and organizations at S.F. State against anti-Zionist voices on campus, among them Abdulhadi, AMED and the General Union of Palestine Students (GUPS).
Abdulhadi posted on Facebook in response to a Feb. 23 message to the S.F. State community from university president Les Wong, in which he apologized to San Francisco Hillel students and other members of the Jewish community for “past comments and actions that were deeply hurtful to them.”
Wong reaffirmed support for Jewish students, faculty and staff and said his refusal last year in a J. interview to acknowledge whether Zionists were welcome on campus had caused “a lot of anguish and deeply hurt feelings.”
“Let me be clear, Zionists are welcome on our campus,” he wrote.
The same day, Abdulhadi posted a response on her personal Facebook page, condemning Wong for “giving Hillel ownership of campus Jewishness” and demanding the immediate retraction of “this racist, Islamophobic and colonialist statement.”
That statement triggered a strong response from Jewish students, several of whom wrote to AMED, requesting clarification on the program’s position on whether Zionists are welcome on campus and hoping “we are all able to recognize each other’s struggles in their different lights in order to help build empathy, respect and understanding across our communities.”
The same group of students, among them S.F. Hillel president Sasha Presley, also wrote to Wong, asking him to “ensure AMED removes its [Facebook] post” and to “communicate widely that the kind of messages of exclusion and discrimination… are contrary to the values S.F. State stands for.”
Said Hillel executive director Ollie Benn in an email, “We warmly welcome President Wong’s and Chancellor White’s recent statements. After considerable advocacy from students, professors, Hillel and the broader Jewish community, S.F. State and CSU have begun to acknowledge that intolerance, exclusion and discrimination must be confronted head on.”
Benn added that Hillel staff and students will meet with Wong in April to ensure that “specific, substantive change follows these important and powerful words.”
Abdulhadi has not removed the offending Facebook post, but even if she does, that is not enough to satisfy Rossman-Benjamin.
“It’s important for us to continue to urge the leadership at SFSU to look at this as a symptom of a greater problem,” she said. “One has to ask, what’s happening in the classes [Abdulhadi] teaches and the events AMED sponsors? They are full to the brim with anti-Zionist sentiment that, as we identify it, does morph into statements that have anti-Semitic content. She promotes BDS openly every time she speaks and at events she hosts with the university sanction. So it would not be enough in our mind to just pull down the post.”
White would not comment, saying by email through a press spokesperson, “San Francisco State University is continuing to review and assess this matter. It would be inappropriate to speculate about issues that remain under review.”