Plaintiff Masha Merkulova (left) and Lawfare Project attorney Amanda Berman (right), claim that San Francisco State University has  failed to protect its Jewish students from anti-semitism. (Laura Waxmann/S.F. Examiner)

Plaintiff Masha Merkulova (left) and Lawfare Project attorney Amanda Berman (right), claim that San Francisco State University has failed to protect its Jewish students from anti-semitism. (Laura Waxmann/S.F. Examiner)

Jewish students renew efforts to sue SF State leadership, professor over alleged anti-semitism

Dozens rallied at San Francisco Federal Courthouse Wednesday after Jewish San Francisco State University students and community members filed a second complaint alleging discrimination and civil rights violations against a Palestinian professor and the university’s leadership.

A previous complaint filed last June on behalf of the plaintiffs by the 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,” was ordered dismissed by a U.S. district judge in March.

The new complaint, filed in March and amended in June, also implicates members of SF State’s administration, including President Leslie Wong, the SFSU board of trustees, and the California State University board of trustees in allegedly allowing a “culture of anti-semitism” to prevail on campus.

“We are here today to protect victims of discrimination whose complaints to SFSU and CSU have fallen on deaf ears for years,” said Amanda Berman, an attorney with the Lawfare Project, at a press conference held prior to a pre-trial hearing in the lawsuit on Wednesday.

“If we are given the opportunity to present the abundant evidence supporting our clients claims to a jury, we are confident the jury will find conclusive and systemic anti-semitism, free speech suppression and equal protection violations at SF State,” she said.

Burman specifically cited two on-campus incidents in 2016 and 2017 in which the defendants claimed that the university’s leadership failed to protect them from discrimination and censor student groups that publicly criticized Israeli policies.

According to the complaint, SF Hillel, an international Jewish campus organization, was improperly excluded from an on-campus civil rights information fair in 2017.

Masha Merkulova, one of the plaintiffs, who described herself as an SF State community member, said that she is looking for “justice” after an event that she attended at SF State at which Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat was scheduled to speak. Barkat was interrupted by student groups claiming solidarity with the struggle to free Palestine.

“I came to state to hear a speaker and I was unable to. We were threatened, shouted at, cursed at,” said Merkulova. “This is not ok. Somebody has to stand up and say, ‘enough.’ The fact was the speech was shut down and I was prevented from hearing a speaker and asking questions.

Rabab Abdulhadi, a professor of both Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas and Race and Resistance Studies, said that the lawsuit aims to not only silence her and infringe on her academic freedom, but on-campus activism by students and other professors, and amounts to “harassment.”

“Their claim is that I’m telling the students to be politically active, which is not true, but for them the truth is not the issue,” said Abdulhadi, alleging that the plaintiff’s motives are to take her “out of business.” “They see me as an outspoken faculty member who researches, who teaches, who supports activism and advocacy not only for Palestine but for justice for all.”

Abdulhadi said she has previously been the target of poster campaigns on campus by conservative groups claiming that she supports terrorism.

Former San Francisco Supervisor Eric Mar, who now is a professor in the Asian American Studies Department at SF State, attended the rally and hearing in support of Abdulhadi.

“The well-funded campaigns are really harmful to the careers of great community activists and professors like Abdulhadi,” said Mar. “It has a chilling effect on many of the rest of us.”


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