Yeshiva University canceled a student-organized event at its Cardozo School of Law slated to feature Palestinian scholar Prof. Rabab Abdulhadi as its main speaker, citing her past support of violence and terrorism, namely of infamous airline hijacker Leila Khaled.
President Ari Berman announced the decision in an email to students on March 15. The event, titled "Forms of Activism for Liberation in Palestine," was organized by Cardozo on Israel and Palestine (CIP) co-Presidents Sydney Artson and Heidi Sandomir, and scheduled for March 1. According to a press statement the second-year law students released, Berman canceled the event at the end of February, one week before it was set to take place.
"As the flagship Jewish university, Yeshiva University proudly supports Israel and its right to exist as central to our core values," Berman wrote in his email. "Dr. Abdulhadi is a professor who has supported violence by inviting students to meet with terrorists and even praised those who hijacked planes and held innocent civilians as hostages."
He pointed to several of her past comments and social media posts, including one in which she said, "We really idolize somebody like Leila Khaled, somebody who actually stands up for herself, speaks for herself, actually goes to a plane and hijacks it," and another in which she wrote, "I wanted to grow up to become another Leila Khaled." Khaled hijacked two civilian airliners in 1969 and 1970, one of which was Israel-bound, and is a leader in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a United States-designated terrorist organization.
Abduhali has also called terrorists executed by the British for their role in murdering Jews during the 1929 Hebron massacre "martyrs."
"While I know that our students were well intentioned," the email continued, "all people of good conscience must stand against hate. Spirited debate about government policy and actions cannot descend into advocacy of violence. The current anti-Semitic vitriol on college campuses today that so often uses anti-Israel rhetoric will find no home or harbor at this university."
Artson and Sandomir condemned YU's decision in their press statement and rejected Berman's reasoning.
"CIP previously hosted controversial speakers," they wrote, referencing events that featured an Israeli Defense Forces soldier and a board member of the Jewish National Fund. "Neither Yeshiva University nor Cardozo raised any objections to these events. We appreciate that our events may be controversial and provocative; CIP must bring speakers of all identities and perspectives to achieve its foundational purpose." The statement also noted that Artson spoke with Abdulhadi about some of her views before she invited her to speak, including her "conceptualization of antisemitism."
Responding to a Commentator inquiry, Artson and Sandomir expressed confusion and frustration with YU's response. "President Berman publicized his statement without speaking with us or other Cardozo students directly," they wrote. "His statement fails to recognize the continued silencing of critical discussion on complex topics that Yeshiva University, and by extension Cardozo, should welcome."
The students, both of whom are Jewish, said, "Antisemitic vitriol is not and would never be welcome on this or any campus," adding that it is unclear what Berman finds problematic.
"President Berman seems to imply that Dr. Abdulhadi represents violence by association, and perhaps that we are perpetuating antisemitism by inviting Dr. Abdulhadi," they wrote. "His lack of clarity stifles the Cardozo community so that professors and students cannot have these conversations in classrooms, clinics, and events." The two doubled down on their decision to invite her, arguing that inviting her does not endorse "every person or movement with which she previously associated."
In the past, Abdulhadi has expressed support and made statements that have been accused of antisemitism. Speaking at the University of California, Los Angeles in 2019, she said that zionists are white supremacists, earning condemnation from the Anti Defamation League (ADL), the Simon Wiesenthal Center and StandWithUs. She has also asserted that Israel engages in apartheid and ethnic cleansing, and that Palestinians face "genocide" and a century-long campaign to erase their "indigenous connection" to the land.
A year prior to the UCLA event, she posted a message on an official university website saying that she considers welcoming Zionists to campus "to be a declaration of war against Arabs, Muslims, Palestinians and all those who are committed to an indivisible sense of justice on and off campus," earning condemnation from over 60 organizations. She has since reaffirmed that statement and asserts that Zionism is a form of racism.
Abdulhadi also supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, recognized as antisemitic by the ADL, Germany, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and condemned and penalized by Congress, the Federal Government and 35 states.
In their email to The Commentator, Artson and Sandomir did not mention Abdulhadi's history with antisemitism and took offense to implications that the event was antisemitic. "[A]s Jewish women, we reject any accusations linking us to antisemitism and we condemn the implication that criticism of the Israeli government is antisemitic," they wrote. "The ability to engage in controversial topics is fundamental to our Jewish identities and is equally essential to the study of law. Fear of the beliefs with which one disagrees does not excuse unjust censorship and discrimination."
According to the ADL, campus and academic and student debate on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict often veers into antisemitism, causing many Jewish students — 50% according to a Brandeis study last spring — to hide their Jewish and pro-Israel identities.
Abdulhadi's actions and her role in academia have repeatedly sparked controversy. Including her controversial comments at UCLA in 2019 and her invitation to Khaled to speak with students at SFSU, she has also been accused of using university money to visit members of terrorist groups in a 2015 trip to Israel, the disputed territories and Jordan.
Sruli Fruchter contributed to this story.