UK Israel lobby takes aim at Palestinian university lecturer

Nora Barrows-Friedman

The Electronic Intifada  /  January 22, 2022

A British university has suspended a Palestinian graduate student from teaching amid a smear campaign by supporters of Israel.

Shahd Abusalama, a longtime activist and contributor to The Electronic Intifada, is a PhD student at Sheffield Hallam University.

Abusalama has written about her experiences in the Gaza Strip, where she was born and grew up under Israeli occupation, siege and military assaults.

She has also written about the terror of being separated from her family in Gaza while they were under Israeli bombardment in 2014.

The campaign against her resembles the tactics used last year to target David Miller, a professor at Bristol University.

Miller was fired from his job even though he was cleared of all accusations of anti-Jewish bigotry by two independent investigations commissioned by Bristol university.

Abusalama was recently hired as an associate lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University in the north of England.

She was preparing to teach her first class on 21 January when an administrator informed her the evening before that her class was canceled and her students would be notified.

The official said that a complaint had sparked an investigation and that due to the university’s rules she would not be allowed to teach until the investigation concludes.

Abusalama has endured repeated attacks by anti-Palestinian groups and publications in the past.

She and her family are refugees – Palestinians ethnically cleansed from their home in what is now Israel by Zionist militias in 1948. Like all other Palestinian refugees, they are barred by Israel from returning to their original homes because they are not Jewish.

She has been a high-profile Palestinian rights campaigner since arriving in the UK as a student.

Abusalama has been an organizer against adoption of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, which falsely conflates criticism of Israel with anti-Jewish bigotry, and in 2019, around the boycott of Eurovision.

The controversial IHRA definition is regularly used by Israel lobby groups to smear and censor supporters of Palestinian rights.

Abusalama said that her activism in both of those campaigns has been a focus of attacks by Israel lobby groups and publications.

She told The Electronic Intifada that the latest smears began in December, when Jewish News and the Israel lobby group Campaign Against Antisemitism accused her of fostering hostility towards Jews.

Previously, Joe Glasman, the head of “political investigations” for the Campaign Against Antisemitism, took credit on behalf of the group for the December 2019 electoral defeat of the Labour Party, then headed by Jeremy Corbyn. Following the loss, Corbyn announced he would resign as party leader.

“The beast is slain,” Joe Glasman gloated in a video he later tried to remove from the Internet. Corbyn had been “slaughtered,” the video said.

A vocal supporter of Palestinian rights, Corbyn – along with his grassroots backers – was the target of a years-long smear campaign falsely accusing him of anti-Jewish bigotry.

Glasman claimed that he and his associates beat Corbyn with a coordinated campaign using methods including “our spies and intel.”

The video Glasman attempted to erase can be seen here.

The Campaign Against Antisemitism’s chief executive, Gideon Falter, is vice chair of the Jewish National Fund UK, which raises money for Israeli colonization projects on Palestinian land.

Accounts for the JNF UK show that it provides financial backing to recruitment drives for Israel’s army, and to Ein Prat, a group which arranges training courses for North Americans who join that military.

Spurious claims

These bad-faith accusations by supporters of Israeli settler-colonialism are clear attempts to harass and intimidate activists and academics like Abusalama into silence.

Abusalama only found out that the university had potentially investigated her social media posts by reading the smears from Campaign Against Antisemitism and the Jewish News.

The university had not communicated with her or given her an opportunity to refute the defamatory claims, she said.

Then, on 19 January, the Jewish Chronicle, a notorious anti-Palestinian publication with a lengthy history of slander, libel and defamation, emailed Abusalama, informing her that it planned to publish an article on her appointment as a lecturer.

The Jewish Chronicle listed a selection of her social media posts that it planned to include in the article.

Abusalama responded, explaining the context for each social media post and adding that she understands that the publication’s intentions are to further defame and intimidate her in order to shield Israel from criticism.

As of Saturday, the Jewish Chronicle had not yet published the article.

Legitimizing racist attacks

It is not yet clear who – or what group – filed the complaint that sparked her teaching suspension. Abusalama says that the university has not yet given her any information.

But she called it outrageous that the university was legitimizing the attacks by treating the complaint as credible and worthy of investigation.

Abusalama said she was upset “the university would engage with and respond to such racist publications and confirm to them that they would investigate me without approaching their own community member first.”

“Reputational damage caused by racist publications like those are more of a priority than the duty of care of their own community members,” she added.

Meanwhile, letters of support are streaming into the administration’s inboxes, demanding that the university protect Abusalama’s job and understand the racist and political motives for the smears.

And the University and College Union is mobilizing for her defense.

“I’m not the first to be targeted and I won’t be the last,” she said.

“This is why resistance to them is a must, to not let them carry on stereotyping Palestinians as anti-Semitic just because they dare to dream of freedom, justice and equality for their people.”

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)