Professor Rabab Abdulhadi of San Francisco State University's Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Initiative (Photo/Courtesy Abdulhadi)
Professor Rabab Abdulhadi of San Francisco State University's Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Initiative (Photo/Courtesy Abdulhadi)

S.F. State lecturers file union grievances on handling of Palestinian militant talks

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

Two San Francisco State University faculty members outspoken about the Palestinian cause and sharply critical of Israel have filed grievances through their union alleging mistreatment and censorship by SFSU.

The grievances, filed last year, are still in the process of being adjudicated.

Filed by lecturers Rabab Abdulhadi and Tomomi Kinukawa, the complaints allege the university — a bastion of radical left-wing thought and activism since the 1960s — did not do enough to protect their academic freedom when they attempted to host controversial public talks in 2020 and 2021. The talks were to feature Leila Khaled, a Palestinian militant who participated in two airplane hijackings in the name of the Palestinian cause in 1969 and 1970.

Zoom, YouTube, Facebook and other technology companies ultimately refused to carry the events (YouTube removed its stream after about 20 minutes). But the grievance alleges that the university, and specifically SFSU president Lynn Mahoney, did not do enough to make sure they carried on anyway.

A faculty committee determined on Oct. 5 of last year that Abdulhadi and Kinukawa were in fact “wronged” by the university, a report said. However, SFSU earlier this year rejected the conclusions of that committee, according to the pro-Palestinian website Mondoweiss, so the complaints are now being adjudicated by a neutral third-party arbitrator.

Billed as “open classroom” events for SFSU students, the talks highlighted acts of female “resistance” and criticized efforts to stifle pro-Palestinian speech, according to online advertisements. They featured other radical revolutionaries, such as Laura Whitehorn, a Jew who spent 14 years in prison for her involvement in the bombing of the U.S. Capitol building in the 1980s.

Jewish and pro-Israel groups strongly condemned the digital events because of Khaled’s inclusion. A spokesperson for the San Francisco-based JCRC called it “unconscionable,” and Rachel Nilson Ralston, executive director of S.F. Hillel, said SFSU should “make clear that Khaled’s actions do not represent the values of the university” and called on S.F. State to take steps to “ensure the safety and inclusion of all students [on campus], including Jews and Zionists.”

Khaled is a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a communist group formed by the pan-Arabist George Habash in the 1960s that vehemently rejects a two-state solution and supports violent means to oppose Israel.

RELATED: El Al pilot’s harrowing tale of outmaneuvering hijacker Leila Khaled

In 1972, militants recruited by the PFLP organized a terrorist attack known as the Lod Airport massacre at what is now Ben Gurion International Airport. Militants with the Japanese Red Army attacked civilians with machine guns and hand grenades, killing 26 people, including 17 Christians from Puerto Rico, eight Israelis and a Canadian citizen, and wounding 80. The PFLP is considered a terrorist organization by the State Department.

Legal activists with the pro-Israel Lawfare Project warned the university that the events, in their view, violated federal law, including an injunction against providing “material support to terrorists.”

The grievances allege that the university took the side of the pro-Israel activist groups, accusing Mahoney specifically of failing to provide adequate legal and technological support to Abdulhadi and Kinukawa so that the talks could proceed.

“The University is bound by contract, law and AAUP policy to protect academic freedom rather than subcontracting the responsibility to private companies,” an op-ed in Mondoweiss that summarizes the grievances, signed by the “International Campaign to Defend Professor Rabab Abdulhadi,” read. “Further, universities must maintain structural independence from the whims and demands of partisan lobbying organizations, including Zionist groups like the Academic Engagement Network (AEN), Hillel, and the Lawfare Project.”

The SFSU president, who has defended academic freedom of expression in public statements, said she disagreed with Zoom’s decision to censor the talks.

“I strongly disagree with censorship in any form,” Mahoney wrote in a press release titled “Our Commitment to Academic Freedom” on May 25, 2022, that addressed the grievances and coincided with the end of the school year. She wrote that Zoom and other platforms “refused to host the class because of concerns related to violating federal law.”

Mahoney said she encouraged faculty members “who do not want to use Zoom to work with Academic Technology to learn about the range of tools available to enhance online learning.”

An SFSU spokesperson did not respond to follow-up questions.

In 2020, Mahoney responded to the controversy in an op-ed in J., condemning “the glorification of terrorism and use of violence against unarmed civilians” while defending principles of academic freedom and “the ability of faculty to conduct their teaching and scholarship without censorship.”

The California Faculty Association, the union with which the grievances have been filed, did not respond to requests for comment.

The grievances are statutory rather than contractual, meaning they don’t name a specific line item in the union’s collective bargaining agreement, allowing more flexibility for aggrieved parties. The Sacramento-based CFA is a union of 29,000 members.

Gabe Stutman
Gabe Stutman

Gabe Stutman is the news editor of J. Follow him on Twitter @jnewsgabe.