(July 14, 2021 / JNS) The recent appointment of Julianne Malveaux as dean of Cal State L.A.’s new College of Ethnic Studies was met with outrage from the Jewish community after it was revealed that she has a history of defending Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Despite Farrakhan’s well-documented espousal and promotion of blatant anti-Semitism, Malveaux has denied that Farrakhan and his supporters are anti-Semitic. Instead, she accuses Farrakhan’s critics of racism and heaps additional opprobrium on Jews who urge leaders in the black community to condemn Farrakhan’s anti-Semitism.
The Jewish community is also concerned about Malveaux’s public expression of antipathy toward Israel and Zionists. In May, during Israel’s war with Hamas, she claimed, “Israel has a lock on U.S. foreign policy, and too many Jewish people say that criticism of Israel makes you anti-Semitic.” And in a 2019 piece, she effectively called for the elimination of the Jewish state and argued that BDS is a legitimate way to achieve that end.
Malveaux’s anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist views are not unique—in fact, they are shared by many others in the discipline of ethnic studies, including at her own institution.
Consider, for example, Melina Abdullah, a professor of Pan African Studies in the new College of Ethnic Studies. Abdullah has not only praised and partnered with Farrakhan in her role as founder and leader of Black Lives Matter L.A., but has also expressed her adulation for Farrakhan and demonized those who decry his anti-Semitism—in her CSULA classroom. In the final class of her semester-long course on Black Power (PAS 4400), which was live-streamed on her personal Facebook page last fall, Abdullah praised Farrakhan’s leadership and accused his critics of malevolently conspiring to discredit him with trumped-up charges of anti-Semitism.
Consider, too, Rabab Abdulhadi, professor of Race and Resistance at CSU’s other College of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State University and director of Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas (AMED). A founder of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel and leader in the anti-Israel BDS movement, Abdulhadi has consistently used her classroom, AMED-sponsored events and AMED’s official Facebook page to demonize and delegitimize Israel and Zionists and to encourage activism against them.
Since 2015, at least 50 AMED-sponsored classes and events have contained expression so blatantly anti-Zionist, including calling for and condoning anti-Israel violence and advocating for the elimination of the Jewish state, that it meets the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of anti-Semitism. And more than one-third of the AMED-sponsored classes and events involved the promotion of BDS. The department’s Facebook page was frequently used by Abdulhadi to post messages vilifying Israel, promoting BDS and denigrating Israel’s supporters, including and especially Jewish and pro-Israel students at SFSU, such as when she posted a message to the AMED Facebook page stating that “welcoming Zionists to campus … [is] a declaration of war against Arabs, Muslims, [and] Palestinians.”
Unfortunately, Abdullah and Abdulhadi are not rogue ethnic studies professors with little influence or support from their respective colleges. As one of a handful of faculty appointed by the former CSU chancellor to the Task Force for the Advancement of Ethnic Studies in 2014 and a member of the Steering Committee of the university-wide Council on Ethnic Studies, Abdullah has played a major role in shaping the face of the discipline at Cal State. Abdulhadi, too, has been given free rein in implementing her vision of ethnic studies at SFSU.
She has argued that using her classroom and university resources for anti-Zionist advocacy and BDS promotion are “part of my job duties … reasons why SFSU hired me in the first place,” and that such advocacy and activism are wholly consistent with “the mission and raison d’être of ethnic studies in general and the College of Ethnic Studies in particular.” Dr. Kenneth Monteiro, the dean of SFSU’s College of Ethnic Studies who hired Abdulhadi, has backed this claim by consistently rebuffing Abdulhadi’s critics and vigorously defending her right to use her classroom and university resources to wage war against the Jewish state and its supporters.
In light of the anti-Semitic animus of Abdullah and Abdulhadi that has become, through their own successful efforts, institutionalized at CSU, the Jewish community must grapple with the distinct possibility that Malveaux was not hired to lead the new College of Ethnic Studies despite her anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist views, but because of them. They must also recognize what this means for Jewish students at CSU, who, as a result of the successful passage of AB 1460—a bill strenuously supported by Abdullah, Abdulhadi and Monteiro—will soon be forced to take an ethnic studies course that is likely to include the promotion of anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist ideologies and activism that can’t help but incite anti-Semitic hostility on their campuses.
And finally, given the outsized role that CSU’s two colleges of ethnic studies will have in educating and training the next generation of K-12 ethnic-studies teachers, the Jewish community must recognize the clear danger posed to Jewish children throughout the state if AB 101, the ethnic-studies high school graduation requirement bill currently being considered by the California state legislature, becomes law.
Tammi Rossman-Benjamin is the director of AMCHA Initiative, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to combating antisemitism at colleges and universities in the United States. She was a faculty member at the University of California for 20 years.
This article was first published by the Jewish Journal.
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