'Racist' pro-Israel campaign led to job loss, 'cyberbullying', Palestinian academic claims

'Racist' pro-Israel campaign led to job loss, 'cyberbullying', Palestinian academic claims
3 min read
24 January, 2022
Sheffield Hallam University PhD candidate Shahd Abusalama claims she was removed from taking up a teaching position at Sheffield Hallam University due to 'outside pressure'.
Shahd Abusalama says the campaign is an attempt to 'undermine all the issues I represent'. [Facebook]

A UK-based Palestinian academic has said she was targeted by a "cyberbullying" campaign by pro-Israel social media accounts and outlets over her activism and advocacy of Palestinian issues.

The campaign follows Sheffield Hallam University PhD candidate Shahd Abusalama's claim last month that she had been removed from taking up a teaching position at the university due to "outside pressure" on the university.

"The Zionist campaign of defamation continues a historical pattern, where the Zionist colonial narrative dominates and always enjoys privilege over the narratives of the oppressed," Abusalama told Katia Youssef, a reporter for The New Arab’s Arabic-language sister publication, al-Araby al-Jadeed.

Pro-Israel groups and media outlets allegedly ramped up pressure on Sheffield Hallam after Abusalama shared a tweet defending a student at the university who had made a poster saying: "Stop the Palestinian Holocaust".

Those opposing Abusalama said that she contravened the university’s commitment to the international definition of anti-Semitism, which prohibits comparisons of Israel's actions to that of Nazi Germany.

Critics of the definition, including Palestinian and Jewish academics, argue that the working definition prevents legitimate criticism of Israel by conflating Judaism with Zionism and assumes that the state of Israel embodies the self-determination of all Jews.

In her social media posts, Abusalama herself noted that she would not have used the word "Holocaust" as it "distracts attention from the Zionist practices of settler-colonialism and ethnic cleansing against the Palestinians". 

The writer and academic urged supporters to call on the university to reverse its decision. She also rallied support from Jewish comrades, including former South African lawmaker Andew Feinstein, the son of a Holocaust survivor.

In a letter penned to the university in support of Abusalama, Feinstein described the academic as an important voice in the anti-racism movement and said he had never heard her say anything that could be construed as antisemitic.

In an emailed statement to The New Arab, a Sheffield Hallam University spokesperson said"Sheffield Hallam has adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism. However, the adoption of this definition does not seek to limit legitimate criticism and debate on issues relating to Israel and the Middle-East."

The university also said that "any appointment of a member of staff is subject to our usual HR policy and processes", without giving further comment specific to Abusalama's case.

Abusalama, meanwhile, says the allegations are "an attempt to undermine all the issues I represent" and affirms she is proud of her record of activism which has led to pro-Israel pressure against her.

Last year, she was among those who protested against the presence of Israeli arms manufacturer Elbit Systems in the UK.

"I was with the demonstrators, and we demanded the closure of arms companies that make billions of dollars by killing us in Palestine," Abusalama recalled to Al-Araby Al-Jadeed.

"They are certainly angry at our successes as a global movement advocating the Palestinian cause, and they are targeting me to obstruct these achievements - to cover up the crimes of the occupation in Sheikh Jarrah, the Negev, Beita and Gaza."