SF State: Lawsuits Tried to Silence Research, Advocacy on Palestine

Palestine Legal provided advocacy support for San Francisco State University (SFSU) professor Rabab Abdulhadi, who together with SFSU, was sued for speech supporting Palestinian rights.

Dr. Abdulhadi on november 8 after Judge Orrick said he would dismiss the lawfare suit.

Dr. Abdulhadi on november 8 after Judge Orrick said he would dismiss the lawfare suit.

After nearly two years, San Francisco State University (SFSU) has put an end to two lawsuits that had sought to compel the university to restrict the speech of students and faculty who support Palestinian freedom.

On March 20, 2019, SFSU signed a settlement agreement terminating both a lawsuit in state court that was on the verge of trial and the appeal of a federal lawsuit that had been dismissed in October 2018.

The federal lawsuit, naming both SFSU and professor Rabab Abdulhadi as defendants, was first filed in June 2017 by the Lawfare Project, a right-wing anti-Palestinian organization with an avowed mission of inflicting massive punishments against critics of Israel. Lawfare had claimed that speech critical of Israeli policies violated Jewish students’ First Amendment rights, their right to equal protection, and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

After the judge in the federal case announced at a November 2017 hearing that he planned to dismiss the case, the Lawfare Project filed a second lawsuit in California state court naming only SFSU as a defendant and alleging that the university violated state anti-discrimination laws by allowing student speech for Palestinian rights.

The federal lawsuit was first dismissed in March 2018 and again in October 2018, after a judge found that none of Lawfare’s claims were viable. Lawfare filed an appeal with the Ninth Circuit. The March 2019 settlement included an agreement to end both the state and federal case.

The lawsuits were part of a years-long suppression campaign involving ongoing harassment against campus activists by Israel advocacy groups. Plaintiffs argued that Abdulhadi’s research in Palestine and her efforts to establish a partnership with the Palestinian An-Najah University, a 2016 student protest of the mayor of Jerusalem, and a 2017 know your rights fair organized by a coalition of students and administrators have created a hostile environment for Jewish students at SFSU. Federal courts and the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights have consistently held that speech critical of a nation’s policies is protected under the First Amendment and does not constitute harassment.

In the federal case Abdulhadi was represented by Mark Kleiman, Behnam Gharagozli and Gavin Cunningham & Hunter. SFSU was represented in both the state and federal case by Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP.

Legal Documents

Letters of Support for Professor Rabab Abdulhadi

  • California Faculty Association Resolution in Defense of Academic Freedom for Professor Abdulhadi (November 2017)

  • Middle East Studies Association Letter to SFSU President Wong, (June 29, 2017)

  • Petition of Scholars and Students to SFSU President Wong

  • Jews of Color, Sephardi and Mizrahi Jewish Caucus Statement in Support of Professor Rabab Abdulhadi Against Censorship Campaigns (August 23, 2017)

  • Feminist Statement in Support of Professor Rabab Abdulhadi (August 2017)

  • Jewish Community Statement of Support for Professor Rabab Abdulhadi (July 14, 2017)

  • California Scholars for Academic Freedom Letter to President Wong (June 28, 2017)

  • Association des Universitaires pour le Respect du Droit International en Palestine Letter to SFSU President Wong and CSU Board of Trustees (July 8, 2017)

  • US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel Statement in Support of Professor Rabab Abdulhadi

  • National Lawyers Guild International Committee Statement in Support of Professor Rabab Abdulhadi (August 15, 2017)

  • United Auto Workers Local 2865 Letter of Support for Professor Rabab Abdulhadi

  • Samidoun statement of solidarity with Dr. Rabab Abdulhadi

  • Veteran Participants of the 1968-69 Student Strike at SFSU Issue Letter of Support to Dr. Abdulhadi

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