President Trump’s executive order on combating anti-Semitism, signed last month, could strengthen a Jewish student’s case against UCLA alleging anti-Semitic discrimination, according to Carly Gammill, a lawyer who helped file the complaint.
StandWithUs, a pro-Israel advocacy group, filed the 17-page letter with the U.S. Department of Education on Oct. 7 on behalf of Shayna Lavi, a Jewish student active with UCLA’s Bruins for Israel. On Jan. 3, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights confirmed that an investigation had been opened and that the agency was “now beginning the complaint resolution process.”
The investigation stems from a guest lecture given by Rabab Abdulhadi, an associate professor at San Francisco State University and a vocal Israel critic who has been at the center of Israel controversies in the past. Lavi was a student in UCLA professor Kyeyoung Park’s anthropology class “Constructing Race” and attended Abdulhadi’s May 14 lecture.
During the lecture, titled “Islamophobia and the Attacks Against Palestine Organizing and Scholarship,” Abdulhadi allegedly railed against Israel and Israelis and “silenced” Lavi during a question-and-answer session when the student tried to rebut the professor’s claims.
According to the complaint, Abdulhadi said Israel is “the cause” of Islamophobia; that Israel and Israelis are an “enemy”; and that Zionists are akin to “white supremacists” who are “willing to engage in ethnic cleansing in order to attain that goal.”
Abdulhadi, who teaches in SFSU’s College of Ethnic Studies, did not respond to J.’s request for comment.
Lavi challenged some of Abdulhadi’s claims following the lecture, the complaint states, but the professor remained steadfast.
Abdulhadi “expressed her disagreement with Ms. Lavi’s position of support for the existence of the State of Israel,” the complaint says. “Then, Professor Abdulhadi continued her verbal attack, brought Ms. Lavi to tears, and silenced her. Professor Abdulhadi repeatedly berated and belittled Ms. Lavi in front of the entire class. Dr. Park remained silent during this onslaught.”
The complaint alleges that Park expressed support for Abdulhadi in other classes after the incident.
When Lavi initially brought her complaint to UCLA’s Office for Equity, Diversity & Inclusion, an internal investigation took a “narrow” view, StandWithUs says, and ultimately found no violations of discrimination based on religion.
Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on race, color or national origin. Lavi’s complaint alleges discrimination on the basis of her Jewish ethnicity.
While StandWithUs filed the complaint two months before the signing of the executive order, Gammill believes it will help the case. The order directs the Department of Education to consider anti-Israel bias, such as “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor” or “applying double standards … not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation,” in determining whether behavior is discriminatory.
“Jewish students were already protected against discrimination on college campuses by virtue of Title VI,” Gammill said. “What’s new is how we determine whether discriminatory conduct might have been motivated by anti-Semitism.”
“Now the Department of Education is required, as a federal agency, to consider the [International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance] definition of anti-Semitism when making that assessment,” she said. “So in that regard, yes, it’s supremely helpful.”