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San Francisco State Administration Reaffirms Support for Racism

by Scholars for Academic Freedom
The San Francisco State administration has openly supported the racist Zionist line that Judaism equals Zionism and being critical of Israel is "anti-semitic"
San Francisco State Administration Reaffirms Support for Racism
For Immediate Release: January 12, 2023

Steve Roddy, sidingwen [at]
California Scholars for Academic Freedom (CS4AF)

Jonathan Buchsbaum (122sjb [at]
City University of New York for Palestine (CUNY4Palestine)

Harry Soloway, (sologant [at]
International Campaign to Defend Dr. Rabab Abdulhadi

Jewish Voice for Peace (

Rosalind Petchesky, (rpetches [at]
Jewish Voice for Peace - New York City (JVP-NYC)

Terri Ginsberg (terri.ginsberg [at]
U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI) - contact:

In a new and dangerous development, Zionist groups are moving more aggressively than in the past to ban criticism of Israel on campuses by deeming it antisemitic. One tactic deployed by such groups is to create assessment reports claiming dubiously that Jewish students feel uncomfortable about anti-Zionist activities on campus and that those activities should in turn be prohibited. In this context, Zionist groups are asking for the application of identity-based protections (echoing existing protections for race, ethnicity, and gender identity) to Zionist political belief. This would enable them to claim that challenging that political belief constitutes "discrimination"—a position that runs contrary to established legal and constitutional interpretations of discrimination. To adopt any such recommendations would not only violate the free speech rights of students and faculty but would also render Jewish concerns unjustifiably exceptional by placing them above those of other racialized and/or marginalized social groups.

San Francisco State University (SFSU), a public university with a long history of attempting to silence Palestinian speech and scholarship, recently released such an assessment report to the public. The SFSU Campus Climate Assessment Report epitomizes the use of flawed methodology to assess the “Jewish Campus Climate” in order to produce “data” to confirm its preconceived assumptions that antisemitism is alive and well on campus and that Jewish students are ever more vulnerable to it. SFSU commissioned two virulent Zionist groups, Hillel International and the Academic Engagement Network (AEN), to conduct the assessment survey, the results of which were published in a memo in October 2022.

It is urgent to call out SFSU for the Climate Assessment Report’s damaging impact on all members of the campus community, including especially Professor Rabab Abdulhadi for her teaching and scholarship on Palestine and her advocacy for the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas (AMED) Studies program at SFSU, which she was hired to create and build. The document below offers a critical analysis of the SFSU report. It details numerous methodological and statistical flaws that fully invalidate the assessment and its findings. We urge everyone committed to justice and academic freedom to read the report and join us in condemning its deceptive attempt to exacerbate racial and social divisions on the SFSU campus and to institutionalize irrationality and hatred. Please share the analysis widely among your networks and on social media.

San Francisco State University (SFSU) contracted Hillel International and the Academic Engagement Network (AEN), both explicitly Zionist groups, to create a “Campus Climate Assessment Report.” The very origin of this report, dated November 21, 2021 but issued only in a memo dated October 22, 2022, demonstrates both implicit and explicit bias. The stated purpose of these groups is to repair the damaged reputation of Israel while delegitimizing any individuals or groups who are opposed to the policies of the Israeli government or support the movement for justice in and for Palestine. Both groups employ the narrow and faulty International Holocaust Remembrance Association (IHRA) redefinition of antisemitism that dangerously and inaccurately conflates it with criticism of Israel and anti-Zionism more broadly. This false equation has been widely discredited by human rights groups and many Jewish Studies scholars, including, most recently, a statement signed by 128 scholars, “Don’t trap the United Nations in a vague and weaponized definition of antisemitism.”

It is incumbent upon the SFSU administration to give a complete explanation of how these Zionist groups were chosen to draft the Campus Climate Assessment Report, how much they were paid, and what accounts were used to fund their research. This should include an explanation of why the conflicts of interest between the contracted organizations and SFSU were not disclosed, publicized, and considered before the university commissioned them to write the report and before it was released. In the meantime, the SFSU community as well as the general public deserve a well-grounded counter-assessment that spells out the many flaws, conceptual and methodological, of the entire “Campus Climate Initiative”—a project designed to prove, without merit, that antisemitism is rampant on the SFSU campus and that criticisms of Israeli policy and Zionism and support for Palestinians are inherently antisemitic. We urge everyone committed to justice and dignity for all to read the report and join us in condemning its deceptive attempt to exacerbate racial and social divisions on the SFSU campus and to institutionalize irrationality and hatred instead of supporting critical, constructive, inclusive, and justice-centered academic work.

Analysis and Critique
Pro-Israel sentiment is not an ethnic or Jewish identity. It is not the same as having a spiritual connection to the Holy Land. Pro-Israel sentiment is a political position that supports a state and its military project and in fact deeply divides Jewish communities–from one another and from Palestinian, Arab, Christian, Muslim, Black and other people-of-color communities. Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) defines Zionism as follows:

"[T]he Zionism that took hold [historically] and stands today is a settler-colonial movement, establishing an apartheid state where Jews have more rights than others. Our own history teaches us how dangerous this can be."

"Palestinian dispossession and occupation are by design. Zionism has meant profound trauma for generations, systematically separating Palestinians from their homes, land, and each other. Zionism, in practice, has resulted in massacres of Palestinian people, ancient villages and olive groves destroyed, families who live just a mile away from each other separated by checkpoints and walls, and children holding onto the keys of the homes from which their grandparents were forcibly exiled." [See Appendix for a fuller definition of Zionism.]

Uprooting and displacing Palestinians from their lands has always been at the heart of Zionism. In 2003, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu explicitly restated Zionist objectives as follows: “If the Arabs in Israel form 40 percent of the population, this is the end of the Jewish state...but 20 percent is also a problem […] The state is entitled to employ extreme measures."

It is impossible to interpret SFSU’s October 2022 memo outside of the Zionist/Israeli context and the demographic and expansionist policies of the Israeli state. The memo runs directly counter to widely respected and well documented reports, such as those of the Israeli group B'tselem, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and most recently Al-Haq, which have reaffirmed long-standing arguments made by Palestinians and their supporters about the settler colonial and apartheid roots of ongoing Israeli policy.

If we turn to the text of the October 22 memo, we find many striking departures from these political-historical realities and the consensus of the international human rights organizations regarding them. Such departures are compounded by numerous internal contradictions and methodological problems, including the following:

The memo twists the assessment report’s own findings to suit the Zionist aims of the reporting organizations. For example, the memo includes in its “Action Plan” this item: "Acknowledging that many Jewish students hold Zionism as a key component of their Jewish identity and providing education on how anti-Zionism can take the form of antisemitism." Yet the Campus Climate Assessment on which the memo is based contains findings regarding the “sense of Jewish identity” on campus which strongly differ from their description in the memo. Figure J, pages 26-27 shows that nearly 60% of Jewish students polled feel little or no connection to Israel, and that 64% feel little or no connection to “religious practice.” These empirical findings reflect public opinion polls, including one from the Pew Research Center, in which 51% of polled Jews in the United States between the ages of 18 and 29 said that they feel little or no connection with Israel (quoted in the New York Times, Nov. 20, 2022). These polls demonstrate that SFSU’s Jewish students are predominantly non-religious and non-Zionist and experience little in the way of antisemitism or discrimination.

2. The assessment survey’s narrow, exclusive focus on Jewish students and antisemitism (including as perceived by non-Jews) provides no basis for comparison with other religious groups—e.g., Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, non-faith—or with the experiences of other identities—e.g., racial, ethnic, sex, gender—across the SFSU campus more broadly.

3. The October 2022 memo exhibits vagueness, exaggeration and misinterpretation of its own findings, as presented in the data analysis sections, which consistently stress the most negative end of a continuum that always favors the perspectives of self-declared Zionists and of the campus Hillel. For example, the Assessment’s narrative report asserts that “most (Jewish students) have felt some need to hide their Jewish identity” in various university venues. However, Figure F, page 24 reveals that, when asked about this, a great majority of Jewish students polled (between 78% and 85%) responded “never,” “hardly ever” or “occasionally” for all venues, including “in my classes” (78%).

4. The October 2022 memo ignores important implications of some of its findings that disagree with Hillel’s and the AEN’s views–most significantly, point #4 on pages 9-10: “Many Jewish students and faculty cite frustration over Jewish identity being conflated with Zionism (or an outside misperception about what Zionism is), and/or a lack of understanding about the diversity of political opinions within the Jewish community. Both Jewish and non-Jewish faculty state that ‘conversations around Israel and Zionism are not given the same nuance and complexity as others,’ and there has been a ‘flattened understanding of Israel and Zionism’ both on campus and more broadly. Relationships are reportedly fraught between Jewish and non-Jewish student groups because of this conflation, and both Israeli and Palestinian groups feel marginalized. In addition, a small but significant percentage of left-leaning, anti-Zionist Jewish students, faculty, and administration members feel alienated from the SFSU Jewish community (which they perceive as represented by Hillel). They indicate they are either inclined to suppress their Jewish identity on campus and/or seek Jewish community elsewhere.”

This is a telling and highly significant but unexplored piece of data in the Campus Climate Assessment report. It points to the rejection by many Jewish students and faculty of the conflation of Jewishness with Zionism—a conflation now widely associated with the IHRA redefinition of antisemitism. IHRA has been strongly condemned by a long list of respected organizations and authorities, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Lawyers Guild, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and Jewish Voice for Peace. As Jewish Voice for Peace-Los Angeles stated in a November 2, 2022 press release: “The IHRA definition is not designed to protect Jewish communities from rising bigotry and racist attacks, which are predominantly carried out by white supremacists, and doesn’t protect people from attacks by antisemites. The IHRA definition actually undermines our ability to dismantle real antisemitism.”

5. The October 2022 memo demonstrates real bias and selectivity in its evaluative scope: The assessment narrative (pp. 11-12) describing SFSU “practice” in confronting antisemitism on campus lists only confrontations with and censoring of AMED in 2016, 2017, 2020, along with reports of anti-Zionist comments on social media (p. 12). In fact, Professor Rabab Abdulhadi, her students, the SFSU Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas (AMED) Studies program, of which she is the founding director, and the Teaching Palestine initiative she has spearheaded have been subjected to a persisting pattern of harassment, intimidation, broken promises, smear campaigns, blacklisting of students and faculty for expressing support for Palestinian human rights, and censorship of a guest lecturer, all with the explicit or tacit acquiescence of the SFSU administration and the overt participation of SFSU President Lynn Mahoney. All of these negative actions were unanimously condemned by three independent faculty panels in grievance hearings at SFSU held in 2021 and 2022. SFSU's embrace of the racism inherent to Zionism is clearly manifested by the university's hostility toward AMED Studies, Teaching Palestine, and campus advocacy for Palestinian liberation.

The October 2022 memo alarmingly reflects a March 2019 legal settlement in which SFSU cut a deal between administrators and a Zionist organization, Lawfare, after its previous attempt to sue the university in June 2017 was dismissed with prejudice. Under the terms of the March settlement, the SFSU administration committed to officially "recognizing Zionism as part of the Jewish identity, protecting pro-Zionist and pro-Israel viewpoints, hiring a Jewish Student Life coordinator, allocating $200,000 to promote viewpoint diversity and dedicating space on campus for a mural related to the viewpoints at issue in the litigation." This clearly underlines that SFSU’s biased approach to issues of antisemitism and Zionism are a central part of the discriminatory “Jewish Campus Climate” about which the memo is ostensibly concerned. For these reasons, the Campus Climate Assessment should be denounced and a public records inquiry about its sources and funding should be undertaken immediately.

To support the movement against the SFSU campaign, please visit:


An Accurate and Historically Contextualized Definition of Zionism
Zionism is a political ideology that developed among European Jews in the late 19th century. It originates from within the 18th- and 19-century European leadership, especially in France and Great Britain, and, later, Central Europe. Most Zionists believed that the oppressive and often violent antisemitism that arose then in a milieu of tremendous socio-economic crisis and upheaval was a permanently ingrained feature of European nationalism and could be effectively countered only with the creation of a nation-state led by Jews. The Zionist movement considered alternative locations (Argentina and Uganda) but ultimately fixed its sights on British colonial rule in Palestine. Despite some dissent from “cultural Zionists” and others who opposed a separate Jewish state while nonetheless supporting European colonization efforts, political Zionism’s dominant leaders sought support from imperial powers to create a Jewish ethno-state. As envisioned by David Ben-Gurion and others among the Zionist leadership, this would entail the removal of indigenous Palestinian Arabs, their replacement with Jewish European settlers, and the relegation of the remaining Palestinian Arabs to an inferior status. The principal goal of Zionism was realized by the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. This came via the Nakba—the expulsion of more than 750,000 Palestinians, the massacre of thousands more, and the destruction or expropriation of most Palestinian property in historic Palestine. The Nakba continues to this day, with settler attacks, military surveillance and control, home demolitions, and many legal and physical expressions of apartheid (e.g., the Jewish Nation-State Law of 2018 that makes Jews alone bona fide Israeli citizens, and the notorious Apartheid (Separation) Wall that cuts off most Palestinians in the West Bank from Jerusalem and their own land and properties).

Palestinians are the central and primary targets of Zionist colonization and expansionism, including continual domination, displacement, settler and military violence, and terror. For Palestinians, Zionism carries devastating meaning and consequences. The Israeli state, whose governments have increasingly moved to the right, has manipulated ideological understandings of Zionism amongst Jewish communities to build support for intensification of the settler colonial practices and apartheid that have prevailed in Palestine/Israel since 1948. To sustain this project, it relies heavily on its allies in the United States—in the White House and Congress, where billions of dollars in annual assistance for the Israeli military are barely questioned; and on college and university campuses such as SFSU, where Zionist groups have targeted Palestine-friendly faculty, students, and programs with vitriolic propaganda campaigns. At the heart of such campaigns is the false notion that criticism of Zionism and Israeli policy and support for justice in Palestine constitute antisemitism. In response to these attacks and the growing violence of Israeli policies, increasing numbers of Jews, particularly among younger generations, now openly define themselves as anti-Zionist.
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