California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Letter to Dr. Leslie Wong, President of SFSU about suit against Professor Rabab Abdulhadi and others

Open Letter



June 28, 2017

Dr. Leslie Wong, President

San Francisco State University

CSU Board of Trustees

Dear President Wong and CSU Board of Trustees:

We write on behalf of California Scholars for Academic Freedom (cs4af)* to express opposition to the ongoing defamation, intimidation, and assaults against the academic freedom of SFSU faculty members by the right-wing Zionist organization, The Lawfare Project. We are troubled by the absence of a clear public statement from President Wong to offer a principled defense of Professor Rabab Abdulhadi who has been repeatedly and unfairly targeted by such attacks as has the College of Ethnic Studies and Dean Kenneth Monteiro.

The Lawfare Project filed its lawsuit against SFSU in federal court on June 19, 2017. The suit conflates criticism of Israel and its denial of Palestinian rights with anti-Semitism, and on that basis charges SFSU with violating the constitutional and civil rights of Jewish students and community members. The intent of the lawsuit is clear: to silence researchers and advocates for Palestinian rights and to ensure that they are punished.

The Lawfare Project describes itself as “the legal arm of the pro-Israel community.” Its director, Brooke Goldstein, has appeared several times on Fox News and other media and has made explicit Islamophobic statements, for example, discrediting the word “Islamophobia” as a “made-up term propagated by the Muslin Brotherhood.” She has dismissed concerns around the growing hate speech against Muslims as a “dangerous phenomenon”.  She has denied the very existence of Palestinians, stating, “Why are we using the word Palestinian? There’s no such thing as a Palestinian person.” Furthering its agenda, the Lawfare project has also attacked human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch and the Center for Constitutional Rights.

The Lawfare Project suit references the protest in April 2016 by SFSU students of a SF Hillel event featuring Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.  The impetus for the student protest was Barkat’s history of home demolitions and racism against Palestinians. When students protested the talk, SF Hillel broadcast false allegations of anti-Semitism and nonexistent physical threats towards Jewish students.  SFSU then conducted its own investigation and determined that these allegations were unfounded.

This independent investigation commissioned by President Wong and conducted by the Van Dermyden Maddux Law Firm on the “April Event” concluded that:


 “The protest was directed towards the Mayor of Jerusalem based on his politics, and not towards any of the audience members based on the audience members’ protected characteristics.  The record tips in favor of concluding that the protestors’ attention, comments and conduct were directed at the Mayor.  This finding is bolstered by the fact that the protestors left the Event shortly after the Mayor exited the room.” And further that “While some audience members were deeply hurt, even frightened, by the protest, in this specific circumstance there were no direct threats of imminent violence that would have justified police intervention, specifically arrest and removal from the area.

The SFSU report found that while disruptive of the Mayor’s talk, the protest posed no safety risks and was focused on the mayor because of his racist policies, and not the attending students for their Jewish identity.

The lawsuit falsely accuses Prof. Abdulhadi of anti-Semitism and of having links with terrorist organizations; the entire College of Ethnic Studies (COES) is targeted in repeated statements throughout the lawsuit; and SFSU is portrayed as “the most anti-Semitic campus in the nation.” These outrageous and insulting accusations demand a clear, strong and immediate response to vindicate the academic reputations of the faculty at SFSU and to repudiate the racism implicit in them.

Yet, instead of citing the results of SFSU’s own investigations and reassuring the campus community and the public at large that the allegations in the lawsuit are false, President Wong’s statement erroneously conceded that the disruption of the Mayor Barkat event was an “ugly reminder” that “anti-Semitism … is real and our community has work to do.” To be perfectly clear, there was nothing anti-Semitic in the protest that was entirely directed against certain policies promoted and implement by Mayor Barkat.

The conflation of criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism has become a standard tactic by Zionist organizations, which seek to censor criticism of the Israeli state.  That tactic itself is fundamentally anti-Semitic because it associates with Jewishness an unending list of well-documented racist policies and crimes against humanity committed by the state of Israel, and it ignores the many Jews who actively oppose those crimes.  Far from the worthy goal of fighting real anti-Semitism, this lawsuit serves the propaganda aims of the government of Israel, at the expense of academic freedom and the constitutionally protected rights of California residents.

Public universities have a special responsibility to protect academic freedom and freedom of speech. Academic freedom allows professors to conduct and disseminate scholarly research, to design courses and teach students in the areas of their expertise, and to enjoy First Amendment protections for extramural speech.   These are essential activities for any institution calling itself a university.

We strongly urge President Wong to uphold and defend the academic freedom of Professor Rabab Abdulhadi and all faculty members at San Francisco State University, and to publicly stand against false accusations by outside organizations with racist agendas. And do so with the same resolve he expressed in his June 16, 2016 message by extending to Professor Abdulhadi

and the College of Ethnic Studies his declaration that, “No person in our community should feel disrespected or unsafe and we must all work together to ensure this is not the case”.

We look forward to receiving your response,

California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Contact Persons:

Sondra Hale, Research Professor, Anthropology and Gender Studies, UCLA

Nancy Gallagher, Research Professor, Department of History, UCSB

David Klein, Professor of Mathematics, CSU Northridge

James Quesada, Professor and Chair Department of Anthropology, SFSU

cc​. Chancellor Timothy White

**CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM is a group of more than 200 academics who teach in 20 California institutions.  The group formed as a response to various violations of academic freedom that were arising from both the post-9/11/2001 climate of civil rights violations and the increasing attacks on progressive educators by neo-conservatives. Many attacks have been aimed at scholars of Arab, Muslim or Middle Eastern descent or at scholars researching and teaching about the Middle East, Arab and Muslim communities.  Our goal of protecting California Scholars based mainly in institutions of higher education has grown broader in scope to include threats to academic freedom across the United States, and where relevant, globally as well. We recognize that violations of academic freedom anywhere are threats to academic freedom everywhere.

A Representative List of cs4af Members:

Hatem Bazian

Asian and Asian American Studies

UC Berkeley

Judith Butler

Maxine Elliot Professor of Comparative Literature and Critical Theory

University of California, Berkeley

Anne-Marie Debbané,

Department of Geography

San Diego State University

Gary Fields

Department of Communication

University of California, San Diego

Manzar Foroohar

Professor of History

Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo

Jess Ghannam

Professor of Psychiatry

School of Medicine

University of California, San Francisco

Alessandro De Giorgi

Associate Professor, Justice Studies

San Jose State University

Claudio Fogu

Professor of Modern Languages

University of California, Santa Barbara

Nancy Gallagher, Research Professor

Department of History

University of California, Santa Barbara

Farah Godrej, Associate Professor

Department of Political Science
University of California, Riverside


Sondra Hale, Research Professor

Anthropology and Gender Studies

University of California, Los Angeles

Gillian Hart

Professor Emerita

Geography and Gender Studies

University of California Berkeley

Sang Hea Kil, Ph.D.

Associate Professor Department of Justice Studies

San José State University

Ivan Huber

Research Scholar

Professor Emeritus of Biology

Fairleigh Dickinson University

Katherine King

Professor of Comparative Literature

University of California, Los Angeles

David Klein, Professor of Mathematics

California State University, Northridge

Dennis Kortheuer, Emeritus

Department of History

California State University, Long Beach

Mark Levine

Professor of Modern Middle East History

School of Humanities

University of California Irvine

David Lloyd

Distinguished Professor of English

University of California Riverside

Afshin Matin-asgari,

Professor of History and Middle East Studies

California State University, Los Angeles

Ahlam Muhtaseb

Professor of Communication Studies

Interim Director of the Center for Islamic & Middle Eastern Studies

California State University, San Bernardino

David Palumbo-Liu,

Louise Hewlett Nixon Professor,

Stanford University

David Pellow

Dehlsen Chair and Professor of Environmental Studies

University of California Santa Barbara

Susan Presswood Wright

Professor of Politics

University of California, Santa Cruz

James Quesada, Professor and Chair

Department of Anthropology

San Francisco State University

Vida Samiian

Professor of Linguistics & Dean Emerita

California State University, Fresno

Susan Slyomovics

Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Near Eastern Languages and Cultures

University of California, Los Angeles

Howard Winant

Distinguished Professor of Sociology

University of California, Santa Barbara

Stephen Zunes

Professor of Politics & Coordinator of Middle Eastern Studies

University of San Francisco


June 29, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Letter to Chancellor Gillman about harassment of students in support of Palestinian rights at UCI



June 12, 2017

Chancellor Howard Gillman

Office of the Chancellor

510 Aldrich Hall

Irvine, CA 92697-1900


Dear Chancellor Gillman,

We, the California Scholars for Academic Freedom, ** a group of over 200 scholars in California institutions of higher education, write to object to a demonstrated bias on your part against students engaging in support for Palestinian rights and the climate of fear and mistrust it has spawned at UC Irvine. This ongoing problem has most recently been evidenced by your complete lack of any mention, never mind concern expressed, over the aggressive presence and even intimidation of UCI students engaging in their constitutionally protected speech against the Israeli Occupation by a group of self-described “active military reservists” of the Israeli Army (otherwise known as Israeli Defense Forces or IDF), who came onto your campus on May 8-11, 2017.

As documented by publicly available video shot by protesters as well as interviews with students, these Israeli “Reservists on Duty,” none of whom is a member of the UCI community, not only came onto the UCI campus to protest the UCI students’ yearly “Apartheid Week” event; but they verbally harassed, disrupted, intimidated, physically threatened and silenced the students engaging in their protected activities.

What’s more, the soldiers clearly represent the military of a foreign government, and are part of a sophisticated and government-directed military effort by the state of Israel to silence criticism of the Israeli occupation by sending these soldiers onto U.S. campuses.

These military representatives of Israel harassed these students not just once but for four days, for hours each day. According to eye witness reports, these Israeli military representatives filmed students, called the Palestinian students terrorists, and repeatedly made racist and misogynist comments to all the students engaged in actions addressing Palestinian rights.

During this time, your campus security personnel and administrative officials stood by and did nothing to protect the rights of your students.  You are now threatening to discipline the victims of this harassment for challenging their harassers about their actions at a public event.

We cannot avoid contrasting your lack of any support for the students with your sending out a letter to the entire UCI community and the public, on May 19 of last year, after a peaceful and entirely lawful protest by Jewish, Arab/Muslim and African American student groups against a pro-IDF film, in which you accused the protesters of having “crossed the line” from civility and repeated unfounded—and quickly disproved—accusations of harassing attendees of the film. We note further that in this case you not only spread false accusations without engaging in any due diligence, but that you never issued a retraction, never mind apology, when it became clear that the accusations were false, and instead actually proceeded with disciplinary proceedings against the Palestinian (but not the Jewish or African American) student group in response. The comparison between your response to that protest and complete lack of public response to this one is glaring and strongly suggests a bias not just against students who support Palestinian rights but against Arab/Muslim students in particular.

We imagine that if another foreign power, say for example, China, sent soldiers or military representatives onto your campus to aggressively and threateningly silence protests about Taiwan independence, Tibetan rights, or democracy, or Russia sent military representatives to silence protests about their occupation of Crimea, you would respond publicly to assure the students of the support of the Administration.  Yet you fail to respond to actions that if not legally actionable, are certainly unethical and immoral and threaten the well-being of students.

You are willing to go against longstanding rulings on academic freedom and the U.S. Constitution’s defense of free speech rights and to put your students in the way of physical and emotional harm. This is potentially legally actionable behavior.

We call on you to defend all of your students’ rights to free speech and to a safe campus.  We ask that you take immediate action to address this ongoing harassment, to drop any charges against the victims, and to put in place campus procedures that do not allow military representatives of foreign powers come onto campus in order to threaten UCI students.

We look forward to your response.

California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Contact Persons:

Professor Lisa Rofel

Department of Anthropology

University of California, Santa Cruz

Professor Dennis Kortheuer


Cal State University Long Beach

Sondra Hale, Research Professor

Departments of Anthropology and Gender Studies, UCLA

**CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM (cs4af) is a group of scholars who defend academic freedom, the right of shared governance, and the First Amendment rights of faculty and students in the academy and beyond. We recognize that violations of academic freedom anywhere are threats to academic freedom everywhere. California Scholars for Academic Freedom investigates legislative and administrative infringements on freedom of speech and assembly, and it raises the consciousness of politicians, university regents and administrators, faculty, students and the public at large through open letters, press releases, petitions, statements, and articles.

Cc: President Janet Napolitano, University of California Office of the President

Chancellor Dirks, UC Berkeley

Chancellor Kim Wilcox, UC Riverside

Chancellor Henry Yang, UC Santa Barbara​

Chancellor Gene Block, UCLA

Chancellor Pradeep Khosla, UC San Diego

Chancellor George R. Blumenthal, UCSC

Acting Chancellor Ralph Hexter, UC Davis

Chancellor Dorothy Leland, UC Merced

Chancellor Sam Hawgood, UC San Francisco

June 14, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Letter to CSU Fresno President Castro about abrupt shutting down of search for Edward Said Professorship



President Joseph Castro 30 May 2017

California State University, Fresno []

Cc: Chancellor Timothy P. White []

Provost Lynnette Zelezny []

Dean Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval []

Dear President Castro:

On behalf of California Scholars for Academic Freedom (cs4af)*, we are writing to express our strong objection to your administration’s abrupt closure of the Edward W. Said Professorship Search after all aspects of the search were completed by the search committee.

It is disturbing that the information was first brought to our attention through the resignation of a faculty member and former dean in objection to this closure.  We understand that a campaign of harassment and intimidation of search committee members was conducted by some ideologically-driven ​Zionist advocacy groups and individuals after the list of the four finalists, who were of Palestinian and Middle Eastern origin, was announced.

Such campaigns are egregious violations of academic freedom and undermine the integrity of academic processes and procedures.  Even more egregious, by closing the search over the objections of the search committee, your administration implemented the discriminatory intent of the attacks launched by special interest groups.  These attacks are in violation of Title VI. They have focused on the Middle Eastern and Palestinian ethnicity and national origin of the finalists.

It is important to add that this search would have culminated in California State University, Fresno, having the second Edward W. Said chair in the country, after Columbia University, a major honor for your institution.  Professor Edward W. Said, the Old Dominion Foundation Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University, was a major literary and post-colonial theorist of our times. He was a Palestinian American scholar of prodigious reputation, one of the most renowned academics and public intellectuals in the world.  Having an Edward Said chair at CSU Fresno would serve to enhance the reputation of the university and of the California State University system.

Allowing special interest groups to change the course of the search process is an affront to academic freedom and the integrity of academic searches and programs, which are under the purview of the faculty.

We call on you to stand by your faculty in the search committee and protect the academic freedom and the rights of the finalists. We call on you to maintain the reputation of your fine university by reestablishing and completing the search with the original search committee.

Sincerely yours,

California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Contact persons on behalf of CS4AF:

Claudio Fogu, Associate Professor of Italian Studies, University of California Santa Barbara.

Manzar Foroohar, Professor of History, California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo.

Sondra Hale, Research Professor and Professor Emerita, University of California, Los Angeles.

Katherine King, Professor of Comparative Literature, University of California Los Angeles.>

*CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM is a group of well over 200 academics who teach in 20 California institutions.  The group formed as a response to various violations of academic freedom that were arising from both the post-9/11/2001 climate of civil rights violations and the increasing attacks on progressive educators by neo-conservatives. Many attacks have been aimed at scholars of Arab, Muslim or Middle Eastern descent or at scholars researching and teaching about the Middle East, Arab and Muslim communities.  Our goal of protecting California Scholars based mainly in institutions of higher education has grown broader in scope to include threats to academic freedom across the United States, and where relevant, globally as well. We recognize that violations of academic freedom anywhere are threats to academic freedom everywhere.

Further information on CS4AF:


June 1, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment