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June 1, 2018 9:04 am

Trial Date Set in Case Accusing San Francisco State University of Discriminating Against Jewish Students

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The J. Paul Leonard Library at San Francisco State University. Photo: Webbi1987.

A trial date was set last week for a lawsuit accusing San Francisco State University and the Board of Trustees of California State University of violating the civil rights of Jewish students.

The complaint — filed in the Superior Court of San Francisco in January on behalf of plaintiffs Charles Volk and Liam Kern — claims “SFSU has a long and documented history of institutionalized anti-Semitism.”

The lawsuit cites a February 2017 incident when the Jewish campus group Hillel, of which Volk and Kern were both members, was “intentionally and surreptitiously” barred from participating in a “Know Your Rights” information fair at SFSU.

While the university has acknowledged that Hillel “was improperly excluded” from the event, the lawsuit claimed this decision was “sanctioned by high-ranking university officials.” The fair was organized in part by the College of Ethnic Studies and the General Union of Palestine Students.

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SFSU has denied allegations that it promotes or tolerates antisemitism, and said once the complaint was filed that it is “deeply committed to fighting all forms of discrimination, including anti-Semitism.”

“We will continue to address concerns from our campus community and others while ensuring that Jewish students — and all students — are able to pursue their dreams in a safe, welcoming and inclusive environment,” the university asserted in a statement. “We invite the plaintiffs, and other organizations committed to these ideals, to join us in pursuing those objectives.”

The date for the trial, which will take place before a jury, was scheduled for March 4, 2019.

The plaintiffs are represented by attorneys from The Lawfare Project — which focuses on cases alleging antisemitic discrimination — and the legal firm Winston & Strawn.

They are also among the plaintiffs in a separate federal lawsuit filed in June 2017 by The Lawfare Project and Winston & Strawn, on behalf of SFSU Jewish students and community members who accused specific administrators and faculty in the school of violating their civil rights.

After that complaint was dismissed with leave to amend by US District Judge William Orrick, plaintiffs submitted a second amended complaint in March. Arguments in the case will be heard in July.

SFSU has in recent years maintained a troubled relationship with its Jewish community.

In February, following meetings with Hillel students, President Leslie Wong — a defendant in the federal case — issued a public apology for previously refusing to definitively assert that Zionists are welcome at the school. His comments prompted a backlash from some anti-Zionists, who shared graffiti and fliers on campus saying, “Zionists not welcome” and “Zionism = Racism.”

SFSU Professor Rabab Abdulhadi — also a defendant in the same case — described the apology as “a declaration of war” against Arabs, Muslims, and Palestinians, in a message that was shared on the Facebook page of the school’s Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Studies program.

Wong’s statement was similarly criticized the following month by the school’s Department of Women and Gender Studies, which linked to the official homepage of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel in response.

A coalition of 60 education, religious, and civil rights organizations — organized by the watchdog group AMCHA Initiative — subsequently denounced Abdulhadi’s “incendiary” post in a March email to Timothy White, chancellor of the California State University system.

The chancellor replied days later by affirming that SFSU “took immediate corrective action with this faculty member regarding the post,” which a university representative confirmed included a request to remove Abdulhadi’s post from the AMED Studies Facebook page. As of Thursday, the post was still publicly available.

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