Students walk around campus near the Cesar Chavez Student Center at San Francisco State University. (Steven Ho/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Unfounded charges of anti-Semitism at SF State protect no one

I have heard all my life about how hatred of Jews has led to horrible things. So, it enrages and saddens me to see mainstream Jewish organizations use false charges of anti-Semitism to shut down pro-Palestine voices and restrict academic freedom. They insult the victims of anti-Semitism, including those in my family. They leave Jews more vulnerable to real anti-Semitism, like that being promoted by neo-Nazis and white supremacists in America and Europe.

In June, the Lawfare Project, which describes itself as “the legal arm of the pro-Israel movement,” filed a suit against San Francisco State University, SFSU administrators and Palestinian professor Rabab Abdulhadi. The suit claims widespread anti-Semitism on American campuses, especially at SFSU. They allege a “pervasively hostile social and educational environment for Jewish students.” But in their 80-page complaint, I could find only two allegations of verbal attacks on Jews or Judaism, and they were from the years 1997 and 2002. Otherwise, the complaint only cites acts and speech opposing Israel.

In 2016, student shouting drowned out Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat. Barkat has overseen the eviction of Palestinians and their replacement by Israeli settlers. An outside law firm investigated the protest and found that it was political, not anti-Semitic, and that Jewish students were in no way threatened.

In 2006, the university invited representatives of al-Awda, a Palestinian group that supports the BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanction) movement against Israel. BDS is a nonviolent strategy for opposing Israeli actions, but al-Awda have made no statements or actions against Jews.

Dr. Abdulhadi is cited for a 2014 research trip to Palestine, during which she met with Leila Khaled, who once hijacked a plane. Abdulhadi also visited an-Najah University, a leading Palestinian campus, and signed a “sister school” memorandum of understanding with them. The lawsuit calls an-Najah a “center for terrorist recruitment” without giving any evidence. Whatever you think about an-Najah or Khaled, they are in Palestine and Jordan. How does visiting them affect Jewish life on a San Francisco campus?

Despite the claims of pro-Israel organizations, actual Jewish students consistently deny they face anti-Semitism. A study published in 2017 at Stanford University interviewed 66 Jewish students at seven California campuses, including SFSU, and found, “None characterized their campus as anti-Semitic.”

A study of UC campuses in 2014 found 84 percent of Jewish students felt comfortable or very comfortable at school, compared to 78 percent of Christians and 76 percent of Muslims.

An article in J, the Jewish Weekly of Northern California, while alleging rampant anti-Semitism on UC campuses, admitted, “Jewish students at UC Berkeley, UC Davis and UC Santa Cruz have thrived for the most part — receiving a good education, enjoying myriad collegiate activities and partaking in a rich Jewish life that’s for the taking if they want it.”

The article says of a Jewish freshman student, “As far as she is concerned, Cal is a haven for Jewish students like her.”
At SFSU earlier this month, I observed and talked with two Jewish student organizations, who had displays in front of the student union, interacting with other students with no problems or hostility. The Jewish student group Hillel regularly holds public pro-Israel events on campus.

In contrast, Dr. Abdulhadi and her students have been targeted by a series of posters naming them and calling them supporters of terrorism. These posters by militant supporters of Israel have created a truly “hostile social environment” for Arab and Palestinian students and faculty.

Pro-Israel zealots consistently refer to political opposition to the actions of the state of Israel as “anti-Semitic.” Anti-Semitism and opposition to Israel are two different things, though Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Israel’s militant supporters claim they are the same. Many people who love Jews, or are Jews ourselves, are very angry about what Israel has done and is doing in Palestine and beyond.

Legitimate opposition to Israel motivated the other “anti-Semitic” action cited in Lawfare’s complaint, the supposed exclusion of Hillel from a student-organized Know Your Rights Fair in February. Hillel was not excluded; their members attended in considerable numbers. They could hear the speakers, visit the tables and network like anybody else at the fair. I spoke with many of them while staffing a table for Jewish Voice for Peace.

They were not given a table of their own because they focus on promoting Israel, which was not what the fair was about. There was nothing anti-Semitic about it.

The ongoing war in Israel/Palestine and surrounding states has now come to American campuses. False charges of anti-Semitism are just another tactic in the war, and they restrict the academic freedom of students and faculty, particularly Arab teachers like Dr. Abdulhadi.

This lawsuit needs to be dismissed, and Arab and Palestinian students and faculty need to be supported, not attacked.

David Spero lives in the Parkmerced neighborhood. He is a nurse, writer, grandfather and an active member of Jewish Voice for Peace.

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