Sheffield Hallam University suspends Palestinian lecturer over anti-Israel tweets

Shahd Abusalama. Pic: Palestine solidarity Campaign.

A Palestinian lecturer has been suspended from teaching by Sheffield Hallam University over anti-Israel social media posts.

Shahd Abusalama, an activist and a PhD student from Gaza, was appointed as an Associate Lecturer at the university last month and was expected to start teaching from January 21.

However, she was informed a day earlier about the cancellation of her class while an investigation into alleged antisemitic comments is carried out.

A university official said that an investigation has been started after they received a complaint against Abusalama and until the investigation concludes she won’t be allowed to teach.

The university authorities did not specify the group or individual who filed the complaint that led to her suspension.

Abusalama is a high-profile Palestinian rights campaigner and a vocal critic of the definition of antisemitism adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) which says that harsh criticism of Israel is akin to anti-Jewish bigotry.

Ms Abusalama tweeted: “Family, friends, and followers, I am under renewed attack by Zionist publications protesting my recent appointment as an Associate Lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University, where I also recently submitted a PhD dissertation on the historical representation of Palestinian refugees in colonial, humanitarian and Palestinian documentary films, from 1917 and 1993.

“The Zionist defamation campaign by Jewish News, Campaign Against Antisemitism and Jewish Chronicle joins a historical pattern where the Zionist colonial narrative is consistently privileged over the narratives of the oppressed.”

She added: “I’m shocked that my academic community seems more interested in protecting its reputation than my academic freedom & wellbeing.”

Sheffield Hallam University. Editorial credit: Elizabeth Iris

On its website Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA) says that Abusalama shared tweets defending a first-year student who had made a poster that said “Stop the Palestinian Holocaust” and who was accused by a Jewish student of antisemitism.

Ms Abusalama defended the student by citing Jewish individuals who have made the same analogy, and also wrote: “I understand why a first-year university student used #Holocaust when thinking of Israel’s repeated bombardment of Gaza,” adding: “Maybe she thought she’d garner European sympathy for Palestine by evoking ‘Never Again’ slogan.”

According to the IHRA defeinition of antisemitism, which Sheffield Hallam has adopted: “Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis” is an example of antisemitism.

Campaign Against Antisemitism added: “She is active in the BDS movement to boycott Israel, the tactics of which an overwhelming majority of British Jews find intimidating, and in the past she reportedly urged people to watch a video on YouTube called ‘Truth About Zionist Jews Talmud,’ which presented numerous antisemitic myths about the Talmud. The video’s description asked ‘Why the Zionist don’t want us to know what’s in Talmud? [sic],’ adding: ‘Why they want the teaching of the Talmud to be known only to Jews.'”

According to CAA, Ms Abusalama wrote on Twitter: “Must watch this video that tells you the truth about #zionist #Jews. They take their legitimacy from #Talmud.” In another post, she reportedly wrote that the “Zionist lobbies control all this for their interest,” adding: “They buy presidents/slaves.”

The video and tweets have since been deleted. Shahd Abusalama says the tweets were written in 2012 when she was writing from under fire in besieged Gaza. For further context read an article by Shahd Abusalama here.

Meanwhile, a letter signed by more than 60 student unions and societies of different universities has demanded that the university reverses its decision and issues a public apology for the harm caused to Abusalama.

The letter reads: “Sheffield Hallam University has now made itself an accomplice in the unrelenting targeting of Palestinian academics and students on UK campuses. Shahd Abusalama has not only been an incredible campaigner, continuing to fight for Palestinian rights despite the intensifying government crackdown on Palestinian activism, she has also been an inspiring figure in the Palestinian community since arriving in the UK.

“She has provided immense support for us as students, working closely with many of us as we were beginning to get involved in student activism, and putting our safety and wellbeing first. These allegations are not only a grave insult to Shahd’s character as an explicitly anti-racist scholar-activist, but are a clear attempt at shattering her strength and confidence as a person who speaks outwardly about Israeli war crimes.”

And the Association of Students Activism for Palestine (ASAP) in a statement said: “ASAP is calling for Sheffield Hallam University to reinstate Shahd Abusalama. We condemn the defamatory claims against her which are rooted in anti-Palestinian racism and are a part of a trend attempting to censor Palestinians across UK universities.”

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