Eighty Jewish groups are signatories on a letter alleging that San Francisco State University associate professor Rabab Abdulhadi is violating California law by using a Facebook page that is associated with her department and the university to spread political messages and solicit legal funds.
This is the latest squabble between Jews and Abdulhadi on SFSU’s campus. As a senior scholar of the university’s Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Initiative (AMED) program, Abdulhadi is an outspoken critic of Israel and a supporter of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. She was included as a defendant in a civil rights lawsuit filed by two Jewish students that was settled in March.
The letter, organized by the Amcha Initiative, a Santa Cruz-based nonprofit that investigates anti-Semitism on college campuses, was signed by the Simon Wiesenthal Center and B’nai B’rith International, among others, and sent to SFSU administrators on Sept. 3. It raises questions about whether a social media page that displays the university’s name can be seen as an official extension of the school.
“An SFSU academic program should never be allowed to use its departmental logo and the name ‘San Francisco State University’ to disseminate politically motivated and hate-filled messages,” the letter says.
In response, SFSU spokeswoman Monique Beeler said the university is exploring ways to address the use of its name on social media accounts.
On July 3, AMED’s Facebook account shared a post showing a flag with the words “Zionism = Racism” and “Boycott! Divest! Sanction!” The page also shared a post from February 2018 on Abdulhadi’s personal account stating that “…welcoming Zionists to campus, equating Jewishness with Zionism, and giving Hillel ownership of campus Jewishness to be a declaration of war against Arabs, Muslims, Palestinians. This includes our sisters and brothers in the Jewish community whose conscience refuses to allow Israel’s colonialism, racism and occupation — the inherent character of Zionism — to speak in their name.”
Amcha contends that these posts violate the California Education Code, which prohibits the use of the university’s name to support boycotts or political action.
“When an academic unit uses its official online presence to attack students for their religious beliefs, this department is out of control and needs to stop,” said Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, co-founder and director of Amcha. “You look at the law and you say, ‘This is a violation.’ This doesn’t take careful analysis. It is right there.”
Abdulhadi waved off the accusations as part of a smear campaign against her by Amcha and other groups. “They are trying to bully me,” she told J. on Sept. 5. “They are trying to destroy the [AMED] program. They are trying to silence campus activism.”
Abdulhadi said the AMED social media account is “an informal Facebook page set up by alumni and friends.”
“It is not really part of the university,” she said. “Everyone knows that things people post on Facebook are informal.” Abdulhadi said the department’s official website is amed.sfsu.edu.
In a statement provided to J., SFSU spokeswoman Beeler said, “The post on the AMED Facebook page does not reflect the opinions, values, or policies of San Francisco State University. The University is exploring its options for addressing use of the SF State name on unofficial social media channels; however, this is a complex issue and will take some time. SF State promotes the principles of inclusion, thoughtful intellectual discourse and sharing of ideas that are central to our academic environment. All are welcome at SF State and a diversity of perspectives helps us grow as an institution.”
S.F.-based attorney Bo Links, whose 44-year career includes an emphasis on education law, said he believes there is a possible violation. “At the very least, it is misleading,” Links said. “It would be one thing for an individual or group of individuals to express a boycott. It’s another thing to imply that this is the position of the department at SFSU. And that is exactly what this education code is designed to prevent.”
Amcha originally sent two letters in July to SFSU President Lynn Mahoney about the potential California Education Code violation. In both instances, Mahoney replied that the Facebook page was not an official extension of the university. On Sept. 3, in its most recent letter, Amcha expanded the allegations, this time in reference to an Aug. 11 post on the AMED Facebook page that links to a legal fund for two lawsuits Abdulhadi has filed against SFSU in federal and state courts. Those lawsuits are still active.
The expanded Amcha claim referred to California laws that prohibit state employees from using public resources for personal purposes. The complaint was sent to Mahoney, as well as to CSU Chancellor Timothy P. White and general counsel Andrew Jones.Rossman-Benjamin said she has not yet received a response and that Amcha is prepared to take the potential violations to California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.
SFSU settled a civil rights lawsuit in March filed by two Jewish students who alleged systematic anti-Semitism at the university. As part of the settlement, SFSU promised to protect the rights of Jews on campus and pay $36,000 toward the plaintiffs’ legal fees.