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Judge to dismiss Jewish students’ lawsuit against SF State

A federal judge said he plans to dismiss a lawsuit in which five Jewish students and visitors claim San Francisco State University has knowingly fostered discrimination and a hostile environment for Jewish students.

U.S. District Judge William Orrick said during a hearing in his San Francisco courtroom that the group’s lawsuit, filed in June and amended in August, didn’t adequately show an alleged intent to discriminate on the part of university officials.

He told attorneys for the plaintiffs:

“You must allege specific intent to discriminate.”

The judge said that while he “almost undoubtedly” will dismiss the lawsuit, he will allow the students and visitors to seek to amend it. But he said that any revised version of the case must be “lean and clear.”

The lawsuit claims violations of the U.S. Civil Rights Act and the constitutional guarantees of free speech and equal treatment. It asks for financial compensation and an injunction against the university.

The plaintiffs are represented by lawyers from the Lawfare Project, a nonprofit pro-Israel organization based in New York.

Among other allegations, the suit claims campus administrators failed to stop pro-Palestinian demonstrators from drowning out a speech by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat on April 6, 2016.

The students also allege the campus branch of Hillel, a nationwide Jewish students’ group, was unfairly excluded from a campus “Know Your Rights” fair aimed at members of vulnerable populations on Feb. 18, 2017.

The parties in the case issued competing statements after the hearing.

SF State said:

“The university strongly disagrees with the allegations in the complaint and is pleased that Judge Orrick recognized the plaintiffs’ claims that the university discriminated against them based on their Jewish identity and that the university has been indifferent to their concerns about anti-Semitism are not viable.”

It continued:

“SF State remains committed to furthering free speech and defeating discrimination, including anti-Semitism.”

The Lawfare Project responded:

“Today’s hearing made clear that this important litigation will get the time and attention it deserves, ensuring that our clients are able to continue their pursuit of justice.”

Professor Rabab Abdulhadi, who teaches in the university’s College of Ethnic Studies and is a defendant in the lawsuit, said:

“The purpose of this lawsuit is what the Lawfare Project said it was — to silence people who challenge Israel’s colonial and racist policies. … We are so grateful this case is dismissed because we want to get back to the business of educating for social justice.”

The lawsuit was originally filed by three present and former students and three members of the Jewish community who visit the campus, but one of the community members dropped out of the case on Tuesday.

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