Islamophobia at Home at San Francisco State University

09/24/2017 07:48 pm ET Updated Sep 24, 2017

The bigots are at it again. New posters have been popping up on college campuses in a smear campaign aimed at vilifying academics and students who are vocal on the Israeli Colonialism Project in Palestine. The most recent wave of defamatory posters appeared at San Francisco State University, U.C. Berkeley and U.C. Irvine; they are the product of David Horowitz’s “Freedom Center,” a far-right organization focused on anti-Muslim activism. Horowitz, as described in a report by the Center for American Progress is a prominent figure instrumental in demonizing Islam and spreading fear about an Islamic takeover of Western society.

Since the election of President Trump and the rise of white supremacist groups, Antisemitism and Islamophobia have dramatically increased across the United States. Exploiting this atmosphere of hate and xenophobia, pro-Israel groups have intensified their attacks on advocates for Palestinian rights, as well as supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement, Mexicans, immigrants and Muslims.

These latest attacks on academics, activists and students, are not isolated incidents; they are part and parcel of an overarching strategy to demonize Israel critics and vilify Muslims. Similar defamatory ads have targeted Israeli critics on several other US college campuses in the past, and Muslims across the country have been subject to both physical and psychological harassment provoked by ads on public transit systems purchased by the pro-Israel, Houston-based American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI) with a declared agenda of whipping up anti-Muslim sentiment across the US.

The San Francisco Bay Area, recognized as one of the most liberal regions in the nation, has recently been witnessing a plethora of activities by hatemongers and right-wing extremists, who under the guise of free speech, have descended on college campuses to incite, spew hate and plant the seed of division between communities. A series of talks organized by right wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos was scheduled to kick off on September 24, 2017 at U.C. Berkeley. Milo who promised to attract a bevy of high-profile speakers, such as Ann Coulter and Steve Bannon was greeted by dozens of counter-protesters on Sunday and spoke for only 15 minutes.

Such appearances, mostly brief, since February, by Milo and similar-minded speakers have cost UCB in the neighborhood of $1.4 million to provide security for these events. The university estimates the expenses incurred to be $200,000 for Milo’s appearance; $600,00 to host Ann Coulter (whose event ultimately was canceled by the sponsoring campus groups); and $600,000 for a recent talk by conservative writer Ben Shapiro.

By no coincidence, just a few days before Milo’s most recent highly publicized event, defamatory posters appeared on the grounds of San Francisco State University, U.C. Berkeley and U.C. Irvine. The posters, printed in the style of Wild West Wanted posters, target professors, students and activists from different ethnicities, including Muslims and Jews, whose common thread is that they advocate for social justice and Palestinian rights.

At San Francisco State University, the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Studies (AMED) is a case in point. Not only has Dr. Rabab Abdulhadi, Director & Senior Scholar at AMED, been pictured on virulent hate posters plastered campus-wide, she has also been named in a lawsuit filed in June 2017 by the Lawfare Project, a shadowy organization that advocates the "use of the law as a weapon of war against critics of Israel”. The lawsuit, filed against SFSU and several university administrators in addition to Dr. Abdulhadi alleges that SFSU willfully engaged in Antisemitism by fostering a campus climate that is hostile to Jewish students. The lawsuit cites an incident in the Spring of 2016, when a coalition of students representing a multiplicity of communities, ethnicities, and backgrounds who stand in solidarity for the freedom of Palestine, protested a speech by the Israeli mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat for his role in enforcing Israel’s occupation over a divided city and for his incitement against Palestinian communities. Most of the allegations are based on a false conflation of the criticism of Israel's actions with Antisemitism: parallels that have been soundly rejected and refuted by many Jews, including members of the Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP).

Professor Abdulhadi is no stranger to smear campaigns by pro-Israel groups whose attacks against her have continued to amplify since AMED was founded. Some examples are: 1) having her name and personal information circulated on Canary Mission, a website created to slander student, faculty, and community activists for Palestinian rights as extremist, anti-Semitic, and sympathetic to terrorism 2) being accused of misusing university funds by another pro-Israel group called the AMCHA initiative, which employs tactics to stifle debate on Israel on college campuses. These accusations triggered numerous audits and investigations conducted by SFSU and California State University; Dr. Abdulhadi was exonerated by all of them.

While in most cases, false allegations are quickly refuted by the students and academics, they do exert a financial and emotional toll on those subjected to these smear campaigns, subverting the learning process and threatening academic freedom. Only when academic institutions succumb to the bullying tactics do the fear-mongers win. Shortly after the defamatory posters appeared on its campus, U.C. Berkeley Chancellor Carol T. Christ sent out an email to students, faculty and staff condemning these “cowardly acts in the strongest possible terms”. She promised an investigation by the U.C. police department.

Meanwhile, the President of San Francisco State University Les Wong remains AWOL. In one instance, SFSU refused to have any of the posters removed, claiming them to be legitimate free speech instruments. President Wong has made no mention of hate speech and threats directed at the Muslim and other minority communities involved in the incident at issue. Instead, he has chosen to convene a task force on September 26 to address “Campus Climate;” however, the focus in the academic year of 2017 - 2018 has been defined solely to address “the safety of Jewish students on campus, the eradication of Antisemitism, and the improvement of Jewish community relations with the campus.” Following this initial focus, according to a letter sent by Wong on September 1, 2017, “the Task Force will expand to consider Islamophobia”.

Consider, President Wong? No need to consider, Islamophobia is alive and well on SFSU campus, and refusing to acknowledge it is tantamount to promoting it.

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