Judge: likely to dismiss suit accusing San Francisco State of antisemitism

Orrick did not issue a final ruling and said he would consider arguments presented at Wednesday’s hearing.

August 14, 2018 05:36
2 minute read.
The Golden Gate Bridge.

Golden Gate Bridge 390. (photo credit: iStockphoto)


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SAN FRANCISCO (Tribune News Service)  – A federal judge has indicated that he is likely to dismiss a lawsuit by Jewish students at San Francisco State University who accuse school administrators of allowing and encouraging antisemitism on campus.

The suit, filed last year, claimed university policies were responsible for a protest that shut down a campus speech by the mayor of Jerusalem in 2016 and for excluding the Jewish group Hillel from a “Know Your Rights” student fair. The plaintiffs also said antisemitic name-calling, graffiti and other slurs on campus over several decades had made Jewish students feel fearful and unwelcome.

US District Judge William Orrick III had dismissed an earlier version of the suit in March, saying the plaintiffs had offered no evidence of religious hostility by school administrators, but gave the plaintiffs a chance to present more evidence before making a final ruling. At the outset of Tuesday’s hearing, Orrick said he was inclined to dismiss the current suit as well.

Even if other San Francisco State students shut down the mayor’s speech and excluded Hillel from the fair because of its Zionist views, Orrick said, the lawsuit presents “no plausible allegation that the administration discriminated against, or encouraged others to discriminate against the plaintiffs” because of their religion or viewpoint.

He said allegations of an antisemitic atmosphere on campus, and the anti-Zionist views of a faculty adviser to the school’s Arab and Muslim studies program, appeared to fall short of establishing that university officials were responsible for an allegedly “hostile environment” that damaged the students’ “educational experience.”

Orrick did not issue a final ruling and said he would consider arguments presented at Wednesday’s hearing. Seth Weisburst, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, told him that Jewish students and Zionists “are told that they are not welcome here,” and argued that school officials were responsible for failing to intervene.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, an ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, spoke at San Francisco State in April 2016. Warned of protests, school officials moved his talk away from the center of campus. Six minutes into the speech, about 20 students stood and shouted, “Israel is an apartheid state,” then took a microphone and effectively silenced Barkat, according to a report commissioned by the university.

The plaintiffs accused the school of discriminating by choosing a remote location and by allegedly ordering campus police to “stand down” and not interfere with the protest. Weisburst also alleged that the faculty adviser, Rabab Ibrahim Abdulhadi, had “directed the (protesters) to disrupt and shut down” the speech.

But Orrick said the plaintiffs might not be able to show that university officials were “deliberately indifferent” to their rights, as required for a constitutional violation, because the school had commissioned an independent investigation of the incident. He said they had presented no evidence that other controversial campus speakers were treated differently, and even if Abdulhadi was partly responsible for the shutdown, which she has denied, it’s not clear that she was acting as a “supervisor” of the protesters, Orrick said.
Weisburst dismissed the school’s investigation as “a joke” that resulted in no discipline for anyone.

(c) 2018, San Francisco Chronicle. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.

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