Lawfare drops bullying lawsuits against SF State

San Francisco State University (Source: Wikimedia Commons/Webbi1987)

San Francisco State University (Source: Wikimedia Commons/Webbi1987)

Rather than try to prove its false allegations in court, the Lawfare Project withdrew its claims against San Francisco State in a token settlement on the eve of trial earlier this week.

The Lawfare Project, a right-wing anti-Palestinian organization with an explicit plan to “inflict massive punishments” against critics of Israel, launched its campaign against SF State with a lawsuit in federal court in June 2017. After that lawsuit was dismissed in March 2018, Lawfare filed a second lawsuit in California state court, making similar allegations. Both lawsuits argued that advocacy for Palestinian equality discriminates against Jewish students.

"They settled to avoid having to prove their false allegations and bogus theory in court," said Palestine Legal senior staff attorney Liz Jackson. “That's how ‘lawfare’ harassment works.”

“If you look at the terms of the settlement, most of them simply recommit SF State to do what it’s already supposed to be doing,” Jackson added.

The case settled on March 20, 2019, before jury selection began. Under the settlement agreement, Lawfare will withdraw its state case and its appeal of the dismissed federal case. In exchange, SF State will:

  • launch a new campus mural through a student shared governance process including but not limited to pro-Israel groups

  • make a statement in support of viewpoint diversity and equal access to university-sponsored activities that includes an acknowledgement that “for many Jews, Zionism is an important part of their identity,”

  • spend $200,000 to promote viewpoint diversity and religious inclusion, and

  • pay $36,000 in Lawfare’s attorney fees.

SF state has also agreed to affirm its commitment to existing non-discrimination policies, hire a consultant to review these policies, complete the process of hiring, overseeing, and providing office space to a Coordinator of Jewish Student Life, refer religious discrimination complaints to an independent investigator for the next 24 months, and create a centralized system to coordinate campus programming plans.

“For many Jews, including me, opposing Zionism and all other racist ideologies is a fundamental part of our Jewish identities,” said SF State student Jules Retzlaff. “Will SF State acknowledge that?”

While Lawfare intends many of these provisions to promote pro-Israel views on campus, the settlement largely reaffirms SF State’s pre-existing legal obligations not to discriminate. SF State has a duty under state law and the First Amendment to provide equal access to its programs regardless of religion or political viewpoint. For example, Jewish students who oppose Zionism must have equal access to support services from the Coordinator of Jewish Student Life. Similarly, the $200,000 allocation to viewpoint diversity and inclusion cannot be earmarked solely for pro-Israel viewpoints.

“It is ridiculous that SFSU agreed to pay even a penny to fund Lawfare’s bullying suit but $36,000 in attorney fees pales in comparison to what Lawfare was demanding--and what they spent. It is also a tiny fraction of the legal fees the state has already spent defending against these frivolous lawsuits,” Jackson noted.

For background on the case, see here.