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Discrimination lawsuit alleging anti-Semitism at SF State dismissed by federal judge

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San Francisco State University President Leslie Wong was among those named in a lawsuit alleging the university fostered anti-semitism on campus. (Yesica Prado/2016 Special to S.F. Examiner)

A federal judge on Monday dismissed a lawsuit accusing San Francisco State University of tolerating and fostering systemic anti-Semitism on campus.

The lawsuit, filed last year by a group of former and current SF State students and Jewish community members, claimed that the university failed to protect their right to attend-on campus events — including a speech by the mayor of Jerusalem in 2016 that was shut down by protesters — and that current policies contributed to alleged civil rights violations against Jewish students.

But a ruling issued by U.S. District Judge William Orrick III found that the students, who were supported in their claim by the Lawfare Project, a non-profit litigation fund with the self declared mission of protecting the”civil and human rights of the Jewish people worldwide,” failed to show sufficient evidence.

“While I understand that these plaintiffs, and some other members of the Jewish or Israeli community in or around SFSU, feel deeply that SFSU has not done enough to curtail others’ anti-Semitic behaviors and to foster a better environment for Jewish and pro-Israeli students, the acts described in the SAC do not adequately allege a violation of federal anti-discrimination laws,” Orrick said in the ruling.

Named in the suit were SF State administrators, including President Leslie Wong, as well as Rabab Abdulhadi, a professor of both Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas and Race and Resistance Studies, who has previously told the San Francisco Examiner that the lawsuit and prior claims brought by Lawfare project against her were an attempt to silence her. She said then that it aimed to suppress campus debate about Palestinian rights.

Abdulhadi could not be reached for comment by press time, but Liz Jackson, an attorney for Palestine Legal who is supporting Abdulhadi, contended that the lawsuit amounted to “legal bullying.” The Lawfare project has also filed a separate lawsuit in San Francisco Superior Court, which is ongoing — prior attempts to sue SF State and Abdulhadi on the basis of discrimination were unsuccessful.

“It is part of a year long campaign of harassment against campus activists and professor Abdulhadi,” said Jackson, adding that tensions are unlikely to subside anytime soon.

“The realities are that we have obviously a serious and resurging white supremacist movement and brutal violence in our country — the same in Palestine, where there is an apartheid government getting more violent by the day and stripping Palestinians of their legal rights,” said Jackson. “As long as those cruel political conditions exist, there will be people at SF State who are calling them out.”

The lawsuit focused on two on-campus incidents in 2016 and 2017 in which the plaintiffs claimed that the university’s leadership failed to protect them from discrimination.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat was scheduled to speak on campus in 2016, but the lawsuit claimed that the University participated in discrimination by moving the event to a remote, fee-based location on campus after a protest was announced, and failed to protect the rights of Jewish students to attend when protesters ultimately shut down the event.

Orrick dismissed the allegation based on a lack of evidence that the university officials discriminated against the Jewish students based on their beliefs, and applied similar policies to other controversial speakers on campus.

The lawsuit also claimed that SF Hillel, an international Jewish campus organization, was improperly excluded from an on-campus civil rights information fair in 2017. In his ruling, Orrick said the group had missed a registration deadline for the fair.

Jackson said that the fact that SF Hillel was not a plaintiff in the lawsuit was indicative of a lack of support “even by the pro-Israel groups locally.”

In a statement issued Tuesday, the Lawfare project said that it plans to appeal the ruling and is “preparing for our case in state court,” trial for which will begin in March.

“We always knew that the road to justice would be long, and we look forward to continuing to fight for the members of the community who have suffered—and continue to suffer—at SFSU because of their Jewish or Israeli heritage,” said the group in the statement.

lwaxmann@sfexaminer.com

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