Dr. Rabab Ibrahim Abdulhadi, an Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies/Race and Resistance Studies and the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Initiative at San Francisco State University, outside the Ethnic Studies and Psychology building at SF State on Friday, Oct. 26, 2018. After it was determined that Brian Cofield, a self-proclaimed Nazi, was enrolled in her Palestine: Ethnic Studies Perspective class, students approached Abdulhadi telling her they no longer felt safe with Cofield in the class. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

SFSU professor sues university, alleges discrimination due to her pro-Palestinian activism

A San Francisco State University professor who was previously sued for anti-semitism is now pursuing legal action against top administrators, alleging she has been discriminated against due to her race, her pro-Palestinian political activism and her disabilities.

Rabab Abdulhadi, director of the university’s Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas (AMED) program and a co-founder of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, was named alongside administrators in a separate lawsuit filed in 2017 alleging anti-semitism on campus. A federal judge dismissed that lawsuit in October.

Now, Abdulhadi is building her own case against the university.

In a complaint filed in U.S. District Court in August, she alleges that university administrators including President Leslie Wong failed to uphold provisions of her contract, including providing her with funding, resources and staff to launch a program focused on scholarship and analysis of issues affecting Arab and Muslim communities.

She alleges that influence from anti-Palestinian groups aiming to halt the AMED program sparked the discrimination.

Abdulhadi told the San Francisco Examiner that a persistently toxic work environment has “forced” her to take legal action.

“I do not want to file a lawsuit against the university — it’s more import for all of us to devote our resources and be devoted to teaching students,” she said.

Also named in the lawsuit is the university’s board of trustees, which is responsible for compliance with civil rights policies and human resources management across California State University campus, per the complaint; Wong’s senior advisor to special projects, Sue Rosser; and Vice President for Academic Affairs, Jennifer Summit.

Abdulhadi, who is Palestinian, also claims that the university has not accommodated her disabilities and has discriminated against her “based on her race/national origin, and her religious affiliation and who she associated with,” per the complaint, which was amended on January 14.

Abdulhadi said she has been the subject of hate campaigns, including posters slandering her that were plastered throughout the campus in 2016 and 2017, and repeated lawsuits by anti-Palestinian groups. However university leaders have done little to defend her, she said.

“Although President Wong has explicitly and repeatedly denounced as ‘anti-Semitism’ acts or speech he has viewed, or claimed to view in this fashion, he does not similarly criticize anti-Arab or anti-Palestinian racism or Islamophobia by name, instead offering broad generalizations about ‘racism’ and ‘discrimination,’” according to the lawsuit.

“They are targeting me and Palestinian students, saying that the AMED program might be involved in glorifying the murder of Jews — nothing can be farther from the truth,” said Abdulhadi, stating that she is “categorically against anti-semitism.”

Spokesperson Mary Kenny said the university has supported Abdulhadi “both academically and professionally,” and “funded her defense in a recent lawsuit, Mandel v. SF State, in which the plaintiffs claimed Professor Abdulhadi had discriminated against Jewish students.”

While the university takes Abdulhadi’s concerns “seriously,” the claims in her case “lack merit,” according to Kenny, who added that the lawsuit appears to be “politically motivated.”

“The University intends to defend against the claims vigorously,” she said.

James Martel, president of the California Faculty Association San Francisco Chapter, said that the union supports Abdulhadi in her claims.

“We are concerned about academic freedom and professors being able to uphold their political beliefs without paying a price for it,” said Martel.

He added that the union is pushing the university to respect “contracts when faculty are hired.”

“There’s been many cases of contracts not being honored upon hiring — this is something else we are really concerned about and we are supporting Abdulhadi in her original MOU,” Martel said.

“I’ve spent 12 years at SF State and almost everything I was promised in my contract has been taken away,” Abdulhadi said.

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