On Thursday, November 10, approximately eighty people gathered in Morrice Hall 017 for a lecture by Rabab Abdulhadi, professor of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State University (SFSU).
Adulhadi’s lecture, “Revising the Narrative, Critiquing the Canon: Palestine and Feminist Paradigms,” challenged the homogenization and dehumanization of Arab men and women in the women’s studies canon. Her lecture also contested feminist paradigms that subscribe to the colonial mission of “saving brown women from brown men” and fail to acknowledge the agency and voice of Palestinian women.
Abdulhadi began her talk by discussing instances when Palestinian women’s voices and agency were overlooked or misunderstood by women who have more power. For example, she spoke about a self-avowed feminist fashion house that staged a photo shoot for its summer catalogue in front of the Israeli-West Bank Separation wall in 2004, with the supposed aim of jarring the Israeli state with this image of suffering and despair. Abdulhadi shared a story wherein a chief executive of the company, an Israeli woman, is asked by Umm Muhammad, a Palestinian woman passing by, to join her at a sit-in and call for the wall to be torn down, instead of using the Palestinian’s suffering as a backdrop for her photoshoot. The Israeli woman disregards this invite and says of Umm Muhammad, “She’s too full of hurt, she cannot listen.”
Abdulhadi challenged the audience to question which of these women would be acknowledged as a feminist in the mainstream women studies canon – the “self-avowed feminist” or “the woman who invites those who colonized her land and her life to join her sit-in.”
“Sisterhood is neither powerful, nor global, if it is not on the basis of principled solidarity,” Abdulhadi said, emphasizing multiple times that what matters in any social justice movement is “the indivisibility of justice,” making issues of gender equality, queer rights, and the liberation of Palestine part of the same project.
Abdulhadi also spoke optimistically in her lecture about an increasing show of solidarity from Jewish communities for the Palestinian liberation movement. She explained that, historically, Zionism has always been “a contested narrative” in Jewish communities around the world.
“Sisterhood is neither powerful, nor global, if it is not on the basis of principled solidarity.”
“The Zionist settler-colonial project in Palestine, which claims to speak for the Jews, actually does not,” she said, “and increasingly today, more and more Jews are coming out and saying, ‘not in my name.’”
“I thought [Abdulhadi’s] recognition of anti-Zionist Jewish voices in her talk was really important,” said Anna Ty, a U3 Anthropology and Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies student who attended the lecture, in an interview with The Daily.
For Abdulhadi, critiquing hegemonic narratives is essential to academic work. In an interview with The Daily, she explained that activists in academia who are “speaking truth to power” are doing their job.
However, because of her scholarship and activism, Abdulhadi has been the target of fear tactics and attacks by Zionist groups, like Canary Mission and Campus Watch, for several years. Canary Mission and Campus Watch are websites that profile and personally target activists working for justice in Palestine.
“I thought [Abdulhadi’s] recognition of anti-Zionist Jewish voices in her talk was really important.”
Posters featuring cartoon portraits of Abdulhadi were posted around the SFSU campus earlier this year, targeting her with defamatory charges.
“They want to scare us out of business,” Abdulhadi told The Daily, describing the coordinated attacks of such groups as “cyberbullying” and “incitement of violence.”
“Justice for Palestine is not just a project for the Palestinians,” she told the audience. “Justice for Palestine is a project for everybody who seeks justice.”
A U3 Economics student in attendance, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Daily that this was what they found to be the most interesting part of the lecture. “The thing that stood out to me the most was her idea [of] how you can’t really separate the different issues within the anti-colonial struggle,” the student said.
“Justice for Palestine is a project for everybody who seeks justice.”
Abdulhadi concluded her lecture on this note as well, by explaining that Israel’s settler-colonial project implicates not just Israelis and Palestinians, but rather “every single person who lives anywhere in the world whose [government’s] policies are making it possible for Israel to continue oppressing Palestinians, to continue stealing land.”
“Everybody is invested in either being part of the problem, or in being part of the solution. And that goes for every struggle, not just for Palestine,” Abdulhadi concluded.