Sheffield Hallam University decides not to investigate Palestinian academic

Sheffield Hallam University decides not to investigate Palestinian academic
Shahd Abusalama, a Palestinian PhD cinema candidate, said: 'We're hoping with this fightback… that this will set a precedent and it will protect Palestinians and advocates of Palestine.'
3 min read
04 February, 2022
Shahd Abusalama is a Palestinian PhD cinema candidate at Sheffield Hallam University [Robert Carter]

A Palestinian academic at Britain's Sheffield Hallam University said the institution had on Thursday decided not to launch an investigation into her.

Shahd Abusalama, a 30-year-old PhD cinema candidate from Gaza, had previously been suspended from teaching following a complaint but was reinstated last week.

Her case prompted accusations of pro-Israel discrimination and renewed debate over the controversial International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism, which has faced staunch opposition from those who say it has been used to stifle criticism of Israel.

"We're hoping with this fightback… that this will set a precedent and it will protect Palestinians and advocates of Palestine from such malicious allegations of anti-Semitism and it will also bring the IHRA [definition] to serious scrutiny," Abusalama told The New Arab on Friday.

"There were people in the students' unions… on [a]… UCU [University and College Union] level, street level – Palestine to South Africa to Algeria to Norway to [the] UK to the US. It's been amazing.

"And it's just this pressure that shows that we can actually win for Palestine and stop the bullies."

Announcing Thursday's news, Abusalama tweeted: "I have been wholly exonerated of the false charges of antisemitism, brought under the unfit-for-purpose IHRA definition."

She added that she "will also be offered a more secure contract", making her an employee of Sheffield Hallam University.

"That wouldn't happen without your support," the academic said. "THANK YOU. Let's keep this going on until we see a liberated Palestine."

Social media users received Abusalama's update with jubilation.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign said: "Congratulations to [Shahd Abusalama] for her sumud ['steadfastness' in Arabic] and all who contacted [Sheffield Hallam University] calling on them to drop the investigation.

"It should never have been initiated."

The European Legal Support Center (ELSC), which assisted Abusalama, said: "This is symbolic of the impact that the solidarity movement with Palestine is having.

"Our power lies within collective action for Palestinian rights advocates."

Prominent journalist Aaron Bastani also responded, saying: "Good to see a fair and just outcome. Well done and solidarity."

A Sheffield Hallam University spokesperson told media: "After some specific concerns were raised in relation to an individual’s proposed appointment as an Associate Lecturer, we had a duty to fully consider the matters brought to our attention. An appointment has now been made following the conclusion of a robust HR process.   

"As a university we uphold the principles of free speech and academic freedom.  

"We are proud that our staff and students come from a diverse range of backgrounds, with a wide range of views and beliefs. We do not tolerate discrimination or hate speech, and are committed to creating a welcoming and inclusive culture for all our students and staff."

The university did not address a question about whether Abusalama's case was considered under the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism.

It previously told The New Arab that it "has adopted" the document, adding that "the adoption of this definition does not seek to limit legitimate criticism and debate on issues relating to Israel and the Middle-East."

While Abusalama said Sheffield Hallam University decided on Thursday not to launch an investigation into her, the ELSC said the university "dropped the investigation".

The New Arab has asked Sheffield Hallam University to clarify.