Letter from California Scholars for Academic Freedom
Regarding AMCHA's attacks of SFSU Faculty

Dr. Leslie Wong, President
San Francisco State University

CSU Board of Trustees

Dear President Wong and CSU Board of Trustees;

We write on behalf of California Scholars for Academic Freedom (cs4af)* to express concerns about accusations made in a letter addressed to you by the Amcha Initiative. The March 5 letter is co-signed by Scholars for Peace in the Middle East; Simon Wiesenthal Center, Campus Outreach; Stand With Us; and Zionist Organization of America West. It is posted on the Amcha website along with highly inflammatory accusations against San Francisco State University faculty members and students. One link on the Amcha site is titled, "SFSU Prof Advocates Violence against Israel" and SFSU Professor Rabab Abdulhadi is denounced as "the faculty advisor to the former knife-wielding student" [1].

The Amcha letter describes as "deeply troubling" the SFSU academic event, "Report and Discussion From Members of the North American Based Academic and Labor Delegation to Palestine 2014."  We understand that the SFSU faculty members participating in the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Initiative previously met with Palestinians from a wide range of backgrounds and perspectives, including members of the Palestinian Legislative Council both in the West Bank and the 1948 areas, members of the Israeli Communist Party, PLO (Fatah, PFLP, DFLP, Fida, PPP, and Arab Liberation Front) and outside the PLO (Hamas) as well political independents, and with professors from the Hebrew University and Ben Gurion University.  The point of the meeting at San Francisco State University, to which the Amcha Initiative objected, was to describe and discuss those prior meetings.

The Amcha Initiative letter accuses SFSU faculty members of meeting with Palestinians, whom Amcha labels hyperbolically as terrorists or of having terrorist associations.  In a blatant attempt at censorship, Amcha calls upon President Wong to speak forcefully against the event, "to monitor it carefully for antisemitic and anti-Israel animus" and "(if it is permitted to go forward) to provide counter-programming on the antisemitic nature of such BDS activities."

We urge President Wong not to yield to any of those demands, each of which would be an assault on academic freedom and a barrier to the free exchange of ideas.  For a university president to speak against the aforementioned Report and Discussion or monitor it for anti-Semitic and "anti-Israel animus" would be seen as a form of intimidation of faculty members and students.   Amcha's proposal for counter-programming is a call for the administration to deligitimize this academic meeting and it is a step toward anti-intellecutalism.  If this principle were applied broadly, then any presentation on global warming, for example, would have to be accompanied by an anti-scientific presentation by climate deniers. 

The Amcha Initiative's McCarthyite tactics are not unique to San Francisco State University.  Amcha has denounced faculty members at other UC and CSU campuses for criticisms of Israel [2] and filed frivolous claims of anti-Semitism against UC campuses, later dismissed by the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education [3].  Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, a co-founder of Amcha, has also made a public accusation that Muslim and Palestinian students are generically tied to terrorist organizations [4] and has been linked to spying on student groups [5].  The Amcha Imitative waged a campaign in 2012 to prevent Ilan Pappé from speaking on three CSU campuses.  Ilan Pappé is Professor of History and Director of the European Centre for Palestine Studies, and Co-Director for the Exeter Centre for Ethno-Political Studies at Exeter University.  That effort at censorship failed due in part to the principled defense of academic freedom by three CSU campus presidents [6].

The conflation of criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism has become a standard tactic by the Amcha Initiative and those who seek to censor criticism of Israel.  That tactic itself is fundamentally anti-Semitic because it associates with Jewishness an unending list of well-documented racist policies and crimes against humanity committed by the state of Israel, and it ignores the many Jews who actively oppose those crimes.  Far from the worthy goal of fighting real anti-Semitism, the Amcha Initiative serves the propaganda aims of the government of Israel, at the expense of academic freedom and constitutionally protected rights of California residents.

Public universities have a special responsibility to protect academic freedom and freedom of speech. Academic freedom allows professors to conduct and disseminate scholarly research, to design courses and teach students in the areas of their expertise, and to enjoy First Amendment protections for extramural speech.   These are essential activities for any institution calling itself a university.

We urge you to uphold the academic freedom of faculty members at San Francisco State University and to recognize that the Amcha Initiative is an extremist organization whose goals are inconsistent with academic freedom.


[1] Amcha Iniative Website  http://www.amchainitiative.org/sfsu-is-at-it-again-tommorrow-prof-who-advised-knife-wiel%E2%80%8Bding-student-begins-recruitmen%E2%80%8Bt-for-bds/

[2] Amcha Initiative, The Electronic Intifada, http://electronicintifada.net/tags/amcha-initiative

[3] Victory for campus free speech as US Dept. of Education throws out “anti-Semitism” complaints, by Nora Barrows-Friedman, The Electronic Intifada, 08/28/2013

[4] US university lecturer’s shocking hate speech against Arab, Muslim students condemned, by Nora Barrows-Friedman, The Electronic Intifada 02/12/2013

[5] Documents reveal Zionist group spied on US student delegation to Palestine, by Asa Winstanley and Nora Barrows-Friedman, The Electronic Intifada 29 January 2014

[6] Open letter from Three CSU presidents, Jeffrey Armstron, John Welty, Harry Hellenbrand, February 16, 2012 http://www.csun.edu/%7Evcmth00m/3presidents.pdf

Contacts (listed alphabetically):

Kevin B. Anderson
Professor of Sociology, Political Science, and Feminist Studies
University of California, Santa Barbara

Mohammad Azadpur
Professor of Philosophy
San Francisco State University

Carole H. Browner
Distinguished Research Professor
Department of Anthropology, Department of Gender Studies,
Center for Culture and Health, Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior
University of California, Los Angeles

Richard Falk
Research Fellow
Orfalea Center of International and Global Studies
University of California, Santa Barbara

Manzar Foroohar
History Professor
Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo

Jess Ghannam
Clinical Professor
Department of Psychiatry, and Global Health Sciences
School of Medicine
University of California, San Francisco

Dr. Nubar Hovsepian
Associate Professor of Political Science
Chapman University

Ivan Huber, Ph.D.      
Professor Emeritus of Biology
Fairleigh Dickinson University

Professor Mahmood Ibrahim
History Graduate Coordinator and Adviser
California State University Pomona

David Klein
Professor of Mathematics
California State University Northridge

Dennis Kortheuer
Department of History
California State University, Long Beach

Robyn Magalit Rodriguez, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Asian American Studies
University of California, Davis

Targol Mesbah
Assistant Professor, Anthropology & Social Change
California Institute of Integral Studies

Flagg Miller
Associate Professor
Religious Studies Department
University of California, Davis

Minoo Moallem
Professor, Gender and Women's Studies Department
University of California at Berkeley

Ahlam Muhtaseb, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Communication Studies
California State University, San Bernardino
Gabriel Piterberg
Professor of History
Director of the Gustav von Grunebaum Center for Near East Studies
University of California, Los Angeles

James Quesada, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Department of Anthropology
San Francisco State University

Craig Reinarman
Professor of Sociology and Legal Studies
University of California, Santa Cruz

Rush Rehm
Professor, Theater and Performance Studies, and Classics
Artistic Director, Stanford Summer Theater (SST)
Stanford University

Lisa Rofel
Professor of Anthropology
University of California, Santa Cruz
Vida Samiian, Dean
College of Arts and Humanities
California State University Fresno

Judith Stevenson, Ph.d.
Director, Peace and Social Justice Program
Assistant Professor, Department of Human Development
California State University, Long Beach

**CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM is a group of nearly 200 academics who teach in 20 California institutions.  The group formed as a response to various violations of academic freedom that were arising from both the post-9/11/2001 climate of civil rights violations and the increasing  attacks on progressive educators by neo-conservatives. Many attacks have been aimed at scholars of Arab, Muslim or Middle Eastern descent or at scholars researching and teaching about the Middle East, Arab and Muslim communities.  Our goal of protecting California Scholars based mainly in institutions of higher education has grown broader in scope to include threats to academic freedom across the United States, and where relevant, globally as well. We recognize that violations of academic freedom anywhere are threats to academic freedom everywhere.