The spirit of ’68 lives on! Palestine advocacy and the indivisibility of justice

This article is the first of a series by Dr. Rabab Ibrahim Abdulhadi on a federal complaint filed against her and San Francisco State University by a pro-Israel law firm.  

On Monday, June 18, 2017, the Lawfare Project filed a frivolous and bogus lawsuit against San Francisco State University. Full of inaccuracies, misrepresentations and outright falsehoods, the lawsuit named several university administrators and me as defendants.

I learned I was being sued on Friday, June 23. I should also add that I have not been informed nor contacted by my university to offer legal representation, support or protection as per faculty rights at SFSU and the California State University system. When I contacted the university two weeks later, thinking that it was a proforma email to confirm support, the university counsel would not confirm such a thing. Instead, he told me that responding to my question would take a few days because of a scheduling conflict. Meanwhile, he proceeded to inform me that there were a couple of public records request from the Lawfare lawsuit focusing on me and An-Najah National University and any discussion of student exchange between SFSU and An-Najah.

I found out about the lawsuit from a Campus Watch tweet. I have been receiving alerts ever since I signed up for a twitter account and would be notified whenever my name is mentioned. Except for the two weeks when Mondoweiss tweeted about the two-part article I wrote about Palestinian-Puerto Rican solidarity celebrating the release of Oscar López Rivera, I have dreaded opening up the email notifications. Increasingly since September’s attack by Campus Watch launched a Twitter campaign demanding that SFSU end its collaborative agreement with An-Najah National University in Palestine but focusing on attacking me, the notifications I’ve been receiving have been of more nasty attacks. Campus Watch is a right-wing and racist Zionist organization that belongs to the same network as the Lawfare Project. Campus Watch was founded by Daniel Pipes whom the Southern Poverty Law Center lists as one of the top Islamophobes in the country.

The September attack by Campus Watch labeled An-Najah National University as a terrorist university, citing none other than the discredited Anti-Defamation League (ADL). ADL’s history includes spying on 647 organizations including the NAACP, ACLU, Asian Law Caucus, Centro Legal de la Raza, Irish Northern Aid, Japanese-American Citizens League, the National Indian Treaty Council, Earth Island Institute and 20 trade union locals plus the San Francisco Labor Council. The ADL had also spied on and provided intelligence to the Apartheid regime in South Africa, including the African National Congress whom the ADL Director called a terrorist organization as well. The ADL also kept 77 files on 58 Arab-American organizations and thousands on individual Arab Americans, including Alex Odeh, the late West Coast Coordinator of the American Arab anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) who was assassinated by a pipe bomb in his office in 1985. A search of the office/home of the ADL spy turned up keys to Alex Odeh’s office. The ADL is part of the right-wing network of pro-Israeli organizations to which AMCHA, Stand With Us, Horowitz, Campus Watch, Middle East Forum, the David Project, and the Lawfare Project belong. It is worth noting that ADL funders include the Koch Brothers, the Bradley Foundation and the Koret Foundation. The latter also funds Stand With Us, Zionist Organization of America and several other Zionist groups. Koret Foundation is cited in the Lawfare lawsuit [page 38] as reversing its decision to fund SFSU to the tune of $1.5 million following the student protest against the racist mayor of occupied Jerusalem Nir Barkat.  

Rabab Abdulhadi at the South African memorial of the 1976 student uprising against Bantu education. (Photo courtesy of the author)

Dismantling Palestine advocacy, destroying the spirit of 1968

By suing SFSU administrators and naming me, this legal bullying attempts to pick up where other members of the pro-Israel network previously failed, namely get rid of me, dismantle the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas (AMED) Studies Program and erase the General Union of Palestine Students (GUPS) and advocacy for justice in Palestine at SFSU campus. While the Lawsuit names several SFSU administrators and staff, Campus Watch, David Horowitz and other Zionist groups have focused their poster campaigns on me and GUPS. AMCHA, Horowitz, Canary Mission, Stand With Us, Zionist Organization of America, Campus Watch, the David Project, and the Middle East Forum have launched one smear campaign after another to extinguish the Palestinian activism and advocacy for Palestine on campus.

The lawsuit deliberately misrepresents and smears the social justice legacy of SFSU. The lawsuit starts off with a vicious attack against the historic 1968 Student Strike led by the Black Student Union (BSU) and the Third World Liberation Front (TWLF). The Zionists have argued in this lawsuit and elsewhere that demands (exemplified by BSU/TWLF in SF in 1968 as well as the Oceanhill Brownsville in New York—both coalitions of many people of conscience led by liberation movement and community organization) for revising the Eurocentric, colonial and racist curriculum and its replacement by a curriculum that reflects the pedagogy of the oppressed, and that recognizes, validates and legitimizes the lived experiences and the knowledge produced by and about Indigenous communities, communities of color, poor and marginalized communities are inherently anti-Semitic. In effect, the larger project of this lawsuit, as well as other campaigns by Israel’s apologists, seek to kill the spirit of ’68, what it represents and the emancipatory potential it offers to the study of Palestine as well as Arab and Muslim communities and thus reinstate the power differential to white supremacy and elite privilege. The lawsuit also seeks to seal the erroneous equation that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism and to lump all Jews across time, place and history into one monolithic unit that is united around Israel and its racism, colonialism and apartheid. Palestinian scholarship that places justice at the center of its inquiry such as that which is exemplified by the AMED Studies program is inspired by the spirit of 68 and extends the premise of anti-colonial and anti-racist justice-centered knowledge production to Palestine and Arab and Muslim community studies.

Dr. Rabab Abdulhadi (C) with the General Union of Palestine Students at San Francisco State University celebrate the 9th annual commemoration of the Edward Said mural on campus, 2016. (Photo: Jaime Veve/Facebook)

Here, I do not dispute the premise of the lawsuit that pedagogy, scholarship and public advocacy for justice for/in Palestine on SFSU is grounded in the spirit of ’68. Our struggle for justice in/for Palestine is part and parcel of the long-term struggle for justice for Indigenous communities, third world communities, communities of color, poor and marginalized communities. We are proud to have started and continue to build the AMED Studies Program as a justice-centered academic, research and community transparent, critically engaged and accountable program that stresses academic excellence and open spaces for students, faculty and community members to realize their aspirations and not accept internalized colonialism and racism nor place limits on the possibilities of what they can accomplish. Our struggle since 2007 and more so since 2010 has been exactly to convince SFSU that the university would be doing the right thing to defend its social justice legacy and not bow down to the racist and colonial project of the Israel lobby industry who are not only intent on silencing advocacy for Palestine but are equally invested in dismantling the spirit of ’68 and the radical mission of pedagogy and scholarship in critical Indigenous and third world studies and by extension AMED Studies. AMED was and continues to structurally reflect the spirit of ’68. Though we’ve been starved and reduced into a token faculty member with no staff and no operating budget, our broad-based and principled community of justice extends from veterans of the 1968 strike, a coalition of student groups who fight injustice in Palestine with the same breath they fight to reclaim our university’s social justice mission.

AMED Studies teach-in.

The lawsuit cites and joins with the discredited co-founder of the AMCHA project, Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, in her racist attack against Ethnic Studies. Rossman-Benjamin attributed what she describes as inherent anti-Semitism to the 1968 SFSU Student Strike led by the Black Student Union and the Third World Liberation Front that led to the creation of the College of Ethnic Studies in 1969. The attack against the anti-colonial and anti-racist spirit of ’68, is grounded in racism, white supremacy and privilege. Reproduced in the lawsuit, these assertion of white, Eurocentric and colonial privilege are not new. They regurgitate the archives of ADL, Campus Watch, David Horowitz and the rest of the Israel lobby industry. As the Backlash Report clearly shows, it is an industry, not a hyperbole. Literally, millions of dollars finance these organizations that make up this industry in which careers are made and where individuals associated with these organizations profit both directly and indirectly from these hasbara operations. 

It is unfortunate that SFSU Department of Jewish Studies has decided to publicly subscribe to the false allegations of Hillel, Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) and the Lawfare project that define opposition to Israeli colonialism, racism and apartheid as anti-Semitism. According to its director, Brooke Goldstein, the goal of the Lawfare Project is to “make the enemy pay.”  It is disappointing (but not unexpected given its history upon which I will elaborate in a future article) that the Department of Jewish Studies has in effect decided to participate in promoting the new McCarthyism that produced an unsafe and hostile work and study environment for Arabs, Muslims, Palestinians and other marginalized groups at SFSU. New McCarthyism aims at silencing advocates for justice in Palestine by producing a chilling effect and by enlisting hegemonic knowledge against challenges to the status quo.

The involvement of the Department of Jewish Studies in fanning the flames of Islamophobia and embracing the racist mayor of occupied Jerusalem or the insistence that Hillel must be involved in everything on campus is particularly disconcerting. On the same day that David Horowitz and Canary Mission plastered a new set of Islamophobic, racist and bullying posters on our campus, Fred Astren and Marc Dollinger, Chair and senior professors  in SFSU Department of Jewish Studies, published an article in the Jewish News of Northern California in which they attacked Palestinian students in two incidents that are also cited in the lawsuit and did not dissociate themselves from the racist mayor of occupied Jerusalem and his policies that systematically target Palestinians and uproot Palestinians from their homeland.

The lawsuit alleges that SFSU willfully engaged in anti-Semitism by fostering a campus climate that is hostile to Jewish students and by making Jewish students afraid to walk on campus, go to class, and wear the Star of David or the yarmulke around campus. As we have argued over and over, anti-Semitism is ugly and must be challenged on principled grounds of the indivisibility of justice. In this, the very project of the liberation of Palestine has historically emphasized the non-negotiable rejection of the equation that Zionism and Israel represent the Jews of the world, instead embracing Jews in the future vision of Palestine including those who have settled on Palestinian lands and benefited from the Israeli settler colonial regime, as Leila Khaled, herself maligned by the Israel lobby industry, explained when our 2014 delegation met with her in Amman. In literature, statements, speeches, conference documents and actions, Palestinian groups have emphasized again and again opposition to Zionism and rejection of anti-Semitism. More recently Hamas has reaffirmed the Palestinian opposition to Zionism as it reiterated its commitment to the totality of Palestinian liberation. As Palestinian political activists, we learn about Theodore Herzl’s relationship with Cecil Rhodes, the Zionist movement, the Balfour-Rothschild correspondence at the same time that we learned about anti-Zionist groups and individuals past and present, from the Bund and Karl Marx to Emma Goldman, Joe Slovo, Ruth First, Ronnie Kasrils, Jacobo Timerman, the Israeli Communist Party, Matzpen, Israeli Black Panthers, JAMIL, AJAZ, IJAN, IJPU, and JVP. We historically and currently connect with anti-Zionist Israelis with whom we will build a different Palestine and who constitute with us a different imaginary and a united vision (Anarchists Against the Wall, Boycott from Within, Zochrot, conscientious objectors, and the hundreds of Israeli and Jewish scholars and academics) and Jews in the U.S. and elsewhere who refuse to let Israel speak in their names. We build these alliances as a matter of principle and necessity. By the same token, anti-Zionist Israelis and Jews around the world also do this as a matter of principle and necessity.

We learned about this at the same time we learned about the pedagogy of the oppressed, “The Wretched of the Earth,” Ho Chi Minh, the American Indian Movement, the Attack on the Moncada, the Black Panthers, Albizu Campos, Muhammad Ali, and Angela Davis. For us, the Holocaust was as horrifying as the post-1492 genocide of Indigenous peoples’ in the Americas, the institution of slavery, the pre-1492 repression and expulsion of Muslims out of Andalucía and the inquisition against the Jews.

Those of us steeped in the 1960s politics do not refer to Palestine as the only or the last occupation. We do not celebrate the July 4th nor “Thanksgiving”. Instead, we mourn with our Indigenous sisters and brothers with the same resolve as that with which we stand with Standing Rock and the families of kids killed by the police, whether in the U.S., Brazil, Egypt or the streets of Jerusalem. We did not and do not engage in oppression Olympics nor see each oppression as exceptional or unique to Palestinians. We recognize that each context has its own dynamics and do not intend to flatten experiences or oversimplify but we call out oppression when we see it and we celebrate the resilience and steadfastness of all our peoples wherever they may be.

This is where our commitment to the spirit of ’68 comes in and this is where we see our solid and strategic alliances with those who reject oppression. Unlike the current Zionist coalition (Hillel, JCRC, JS) that is attempting to silence us on campus by bullying, intimidation, harassment and outright lies. We do not exceptionalize Palestine nor advocate for the justice of our people at the expense of others. This is what we learned from our elders and this is what we teach our youth and the future generations.

The Israel lobby industry seeks to exploit the real dangers of anti-Semitism that stem from the rise and popularity of neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups, encouraged by the election of Donald Trump. As a result, anti-Semitism is used by the Israel lobby industry to sneak in justifications for the unjustifiable Israeli settler-colonial project that has uprooted and displaced Palestinians while collaborating with the most racist, genocidal and bloody regimes and violent regimes and entities from South African Apartheid racist regime, the death squads of El Salvador and Guatemala, Papa Doc Duvalier, and today’s Modi’s bloody rule in India and occupied Kashmir.

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