Palestinian teacher re-instated after UK Israel lobby attacks

Shahd Abusalama (TEI)

Nora Barrows-Friedman

The Electronic Intifada  /  January 28, 2022

A Palestinian lecturer and high-profile activist was told on Thursday that her teaching position at Sheffield Hallam University had been reinstated.

The announcement comes a week after the UK university had suspended Shahd Abusalama’s classes amid a smear campaign by supporters of Israel.

It shows that sustained pressure – and refusal to apologize for statements in support of Palestinian rights – can work, no matter how hard Israel lobby groups push.

“The university admitted today that they have done wrong in so many ways,” she told The Electronic Intifada on Thursday.

“But the re-instation, for me, hasn’t reversed the mental harm that has already been inflicted.”

Abusalama has not yet accepted the university’s reinstatement.

She said that major changes need to be made to university policies in order to protect its future scholars from racist attacks.

And she emphasized that she and her supporters will continue to pressure the administration to drop its ongoing investigation.

“I am a victim of cyberbullying and a victim of a malicious, politically motivated smear campaign that is trying to destroy my credibility and the truth of my lived experience under Israeli occupation,” Abusalama said.

“I need to continue this fight to ensure that a public apology is made recognizing the mental harm that has been inflicted, as well as the university’s inadequate policies that exist to protect its most vulnerable students.”

Anonymous complaint

She has not been allowed to read the allegations against her and the university is still pursuing an investigation instigated by the complaint, Abusalama said.

And she has yet to be informed of who filed the complaint.

“I’m waiting for an apology, and I’m asking for a list of the allegations and to drop the investigation,” Abusalama said.

The investigation, whose terms are unclear, “began on unfair and biased grounds, and it was using the IHRA definition as a framework for judgment,” she explained.

​​The IHRA definition of anti-Semitism is regularly used by Israel lobby groups to smear and censor supporters of Palestinian rights by conflating criticism of Israel with anti-Jewish bigotry.

Taking the complaint seriously, she added, is to reinforce the legitimacy of the IHRA “and ignore that it is flawed – and to ignore the thousands of Jews who have spoken against the IHRA and its flawed definition. It’s designed as a shield to protect Israel from criticism.”

Community response

Abusalama’s representatives within the University and Colleges Union accompanied her to the meeting with the administration on Thursday.

At the meeting, the UCU representatives stated that the university “admitted that there had been issues with the way her case has been dealt with,” adding that the union “will continue to support Shahd until any investigation against her has been dropped.”

Meanwhile, nearly 140 UK student organizations have signed a letter in support of Abusalama.

The student groups are demanding that the university puts “measures in place to create a safe environment for her when she returns.”

A public apology should be issued, they add, “for the harm caused to Shahd and for its tolerance to such politicized weaponization of anti-Semitism.”

The students’ letter also condemns the smear campaign against professor David Miller, “who was sacked despite being cleared of all accusations” by two independent investigations commissioned by Bristol University.

“This repeatedly-used Zionist tactic aims to silence and repress Palestinian voices and their supporters,” the letter says.

Abusalama told The Electronic Intifada that the wide range of support that she has received from students “proves how threatened those students are by the increasingly hostile atmosphere that has infiltrated academia, where freedom of speech and decolonizing research are supposedly celebrated and welcomed.”

Truth and accountability

A demonstration was held by students and supporters at Sheffield Hallam University’s campus on 26 January, the day before Abusalama’s position was reinstated. 

Other student organizations have expressed their support and solidarity with Abusalama.

And her case has attracted international attention.

“We should recognize that this support is coming from people’s hunger for truth and accountability, and from their thirst for action when it comes to Palestine,” Abusalama said.

“They have had enough with the strategies of deflection that are aimed at legitimizing apartheid, criminalizing Palestinian voices and distracting from Israel’s crimes,” she added.

“If we don’t speak up now, then we are contributing to a more hostile atmosphere, one that is not going to be good for anybody.”

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014)