[News] Lawyer who says Palestinians don't exist sues San Francisco university

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Jun 23 12:29:46 EDT 2017


https://electronicintifada.net/blogs/charlotte-silver/lawyer-who-says-palestinians-dont-exist-sues-san-francisco-university 



  Lawyer who says Palestinians don't exist sues San Francisco university

Charlotte Silver 
<https://electronicintifada.net/people/charlotte-silver> - 23 June 2017

------------------------------------------------------------------------

A lawyer who denies that Palestinians exist is suing San Francisco State 
University 
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/san-francisco-state-university>, 
alleging the administration there fosters a hostile environment for 
Jewish students.

But faculty and civil rights lawyers say the lawsuit, filed on behalf of 
six plaintiffs, is yet another attempt at censorship by conflating 
criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism.

The complaint 
<http://thelawfareproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/SFSU-Federal-Complaint.pdf>, 
filed in federal court in Northern California on 19 June, was prepared 
by The Lawfare Project 
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/lawfare-project>, a group that 
describes <http://thelawfareproject.org/> itself as “the legal arm of 
the pro-Israel community.”

Last year, the group’s director, Brooke Goldstein 
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/brooke-goldstein>, was filmed 
asking Israel lobby leaders in New York, “Why are we using the word 
Palestinian?”

“There’s no such thing as a Palestinian person,” Goldstein asserted:

In the same speech 
<https://electronicintifada.net/blogs/ali-abunimah/israel-lawfare-group-plans-massive-punishments-activists>, 
Goldstein also revealed new strategies to undermine the movement for 
Palestinian rights, including preparing legal challenges against US 
institutions, among them specifically San Francisco State University.

“The goal is to make the enemy pay,” Goldstein explained.

The Lawfare Project says 
<http://thelawfareproject.org/lp-files-lawsuit-sfsu/> that the lawsuit 
was filed after the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights 
announced it would be “scaling back” investigations of alleged 
discrimination on campuses around the country.

Claiming that San Francisco State University is “among the worst of the 
worst” campuses for Jewish students, the plaintiffs, three students and 
three area residents, say administrators have “fostered, fomented and 
systematically instilled an anti-Jewish animus” on the campus.


    Criminalizing criticism of Israel

The 73-page complaint lists about a dozen incidents, some dating back to 
the early 1990s – before many of the university’s current students would 
have been born – in an attempt to paint of picture of systematic 
discrimination.

Nearly all of those incidents involve disputes between pro-Israel and 
pro-Palestinian communities on campus, including the disruption of an 
event last year featuring the Israeli mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat 
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/nir-barkat>.

Israel’s municipality includes occupied East Jerusalem 
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/east-jerusalem>, which no country 
recognizes as part of Israel.

“The incidents they are complaining about involve activism for 
Palestinian rights, which is political speech that is protected by the 
First Amendment,” Dima Khalidi 
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/dima-khalidi>, director of 
Palestine Legal <https://electronicintifada.net/tags/palestine-legal>, 
told The Electronic Intifada.

“The whole premise of their complaint relies on the conflation of 
anti-Jewish animus and criticism of Israeli policies,” Khalidi added. 
“That’s where the complaint is going to fail.”


    “Unconstitutional and unwise”

The lawsuit invokes the State Department definition of anti-Semitism 
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/state-department-definition-anti-semitism>, 
which describes much criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic.

The definition has no legal force, but Israel lobby groups have been 
been pressing institutions and governments around the world, including 
the US Congress 
<https://electronicintifada.net/blogs/michael-f-brown/democrats-advance-palestine-censorship-ahead-trump>, 
to formally adopt it.

But even Kenneth Stern 
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/kenneth-stern>, the former American 
Jewish Committee executive who authored the definition 
<http://jkrfoundation.org/about/kenneth-s-stern/>, has vigorously 
opposed 
<http://www.jewishjournal.com/opinion/article/should_a_major_university_system_have_a_particular_definition_of_anti_semit> 
its adoption into legislation, warning that it would be used by Israel 
advocacy groups to police speech.

Stern told US lawmakers 
<http://jkrfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Stern-Letter-links-corrected.pdf> 
in December that legislating the definition would be “unconstitutional 
and unwise” and would “actually harm Jewish students and have a toxic 
effect on the academy.”


    Dead end

In recent years, Israel lobby groups have urged the Department of 
Education to investigate Palestine advocacy as a potential violation of 
Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act 
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/title-vi-civil-rights-act> – 
landmark legislation that requires administrators to ensure campuses are 
free from a pervasive atmosphere of bias.

But in 2013, the strategy hit a dead end as the Department of 
Education’s Office for Civil Rights threw out 
<https://electronicintifada.net/blogs/nora-barrows-friedman/victory-campus-free-speech-us-dept-education-throws-out-anti-semitism> 
a slew of Title VI complaints against the University of California 
campuses at Berkeley, Santa Cruz and Irvine, where there had been active 
Palestine solidarity campaigns.

Khalidi says it is revealing that The Lawfare Project is now citing the 
State Department definition in its lawsuit.

“This is about an effort to categorize any and all criticism of Israel 
as anti-Semitic and crush a growing movement that is looking critically 
at Israel,” she said.


    Two incidents

While painting a lurid broad-brush picture of anti-Jewish hatred on 
campus, the lawsuit is centered on only two specific incidents: a 
protest of Israeli government official Nir Barkat’s visit in April 2016, 
and the exclusion of the campus chapter of the Jewish student 
organization Hillel from a “Know Your Rights” fair in February 2017.

Students disrupted the Barkat event with chants, forcing his audience to 
huddle around to hear his speech. Leslie Wong, SFSU’s president, 
immediately condemned 
<https://electronicintifada.net/content/why-are-university-heads-racing-slander-protesters/17061> 
the protest and announced an investigation.

That investigation upheld 
<https://electronicintifada.net/blogs/nora-barrows-friedman/free-speech-triumphs-over-pro-israel-bullies-us-universities> 
the students’ right to protest and found that campus police and 
administrators acted in accordance with how they had handled protests in 
the past.

The investigative report also affirms that “the protestors did not 
create a credible threat to public safety” and that they “did not engage 
in any threatening physical conduct or raise any direct threats that 
could be interpreted as incitement to imminent lawless action.”

Yet the lawsuit claims that by not intervening to stop the protest as it 
happened, the administration violated the audience members’ First 
Amendment right to hear Barkat.

This video, posted online by a pro-Israel group, shows Barkat speaking 
to students gathered around him, while chants of “Free, Free Palestine” 
can be heard from protesters in the back of the room:

In the second incident, plaintiffs claim Hillel was barred from a Know 
Your Rights fair on campus because of its Jewish identity. The 
university is still investigating the incident.

Responding to the lawsuit, San Francisco State University affirmed its 
dedication to free speech, diversity and inclusion.

But its statement repeats the allegation that the protest of Nir Barkat 
was anti-Semitic.

“The disruption of the event featuring Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat in 
spring 2016 and bias incidents that were reported this year were ugly 
reminders that anti-Semitism, like all forms of discrimination, is real 
and our community has work to do.”

This new position contradicts the university’s own earlier 
investigation, which found that the protest targeted Barkat’s politics, 
not his Jewish identity.

“In the end, the record demonstrates that the protest was directed 
towards the Mayor of Jerusalem based on his politics, and not towards 
any of the audience members,” the investigation concluded.


    Equating Jews with Israel

Barkat oversees the ongoing forced displacement 
<https://electronicintifada.net/blogs/charlotte-silver/palestinians-face-biggest-expulsion-years-settlers-jerusalem> 
of Palestinians from their homes in occupied East Jerusalem to make way 
for Jewish settlers.

In 2016, Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes in the occupied West 
Bank, including Jerusalem, hit a new record 
<https://electronicintifada.net/blogs/charlotte-silver/israeli-home-demolitions-break-records-shatter-lives-2016>.

Yet the lawsuit frames the protest against Barkat as an attack on Jewish 
students on campus, not as political speech against a foreign 
government’s objectionable behavior.

The complaint alleges for instance that protesters “had every intention 
of making the Jews in the room feel intimidated and that they reveled in 
threatening them.”

Such assertions manufacture the anti-Semitism the lawsuit claims to 
expose, by identifying all Jews with Israel and Israel with all Jews. 
This is absurd on its face, not least because Israeli settlements are 
illegal under international law 
<https://electronicintifada.net/blogs/ali-abunimah/us-lets-security-council-pass-resolution-against-israeli-settlements> 
and are opposed not only by Palestinians and dozens of governments but 
by also by many Jewish groups and activists, including Israelis 
<http://peacenow.org.il/en/about-us/who-are-we>.

The lawsuit also describes the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) 
movement for Palestinian rights as “inherently anti-Semitic.” It 
attempts to link BDS activists to “terrorist” organizations.

It even claims that murdered Palestinian cartoonist Naji al-Ali’s 
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/naji-al-ali> iconic character 
Handala – a child holding a key who represents Palestinian refugees’ 
desire to return home – is “an established anti-Semitic symbol.”

The image of a key is often used by Palestinians as a reminder of the 
houses they left behind in the Nakba 
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/nakba> – the 1948 ethnic cleansing 
of Palestine. But to the plaintiffs, “the key represents the destruction 
of Israel as a Jewish state.”


    The spirit of 1968

Another target of the lawsuit is San Francisco State University’s 
historic <http://www.sfsu.edu/news/2008/fall/8.html> College of Ethnic 
Studies.

“Unfortunately, part of the legacy that evolved from [the College of 
Ethnic Studies] has been an extremely disturbing pattern of blatant 
anti-Jewish animus at SFSU,” the complaint claims.

The first of its kind, the College of Ethnic Studies was founded in 1969 
after the Black Student Union and the Third World Liberation Front waged 
the longest campus strike in US history, starting the year before.

It quickly became a model for Black and ethnic studies programs across 
the country.

In 2007, in the same spirit, San Francisco State University founded the 
Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Initiative. Professor Rabab 
Abdulhadi <https://electronicintifada.net/tags/rabab-abdulhadi>, who 
teaches in the department, is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, along 
with the dean of the College of Ethnic Studies.

The university’s statement responding to the lawsuit does not mention or 
defend the college.

Abdulhadi has been the repeated target 
<https://electronicintifada.net/blogs/charlotte-silver/racist-group-launches-national-offensive-us-campuses> 
of Islamophobic and anti-Palestinian attacks by Israel advocates.

“These right-wing, pro-Israeli groups are well funded but tiny,” 
Abdulhadi told The Electronic Intifada. “They don’t represent a 
consensus of the Jewish community.”

“They are trying to stop the scholarship and activism on campus,” she 
added. “They are attacking the spirit of 1968.”


-- 
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