Letter from UKPalMHN to Sheffield Hallam University regarding Shahd Abusalama

26 January 2022

Professor Sir Chris Husbands
Vice-Chancellor Sheffield Hallam University

c.c.    Richard Calvert, Deputy VC
Professor Kevin Kerrigan, Pro-VC
Dr. Lisa Mooney, Pro-VC
Professor David Shepherd, Pro-VC
Professor Chris Wigginton, Pro-VC
Dr. Sally Jackson, Chief People Officer
Dr. Geff Green, Head of Department
Sir Bob Kerslake, Chair, Board of Governors
Dr. Camila Bassi, Chair Sheffield Hallam UCU
Dr. Karen Grainger, Vice-Chair Sheffield Hallam UCU

Dear Professor Husbands,

Re.: Ms. Shahd Abusalama

We, on behalf of the UK Palestine Mental Health Network are writing to express our deep concern at the suspension from her teaching duties of this young academic following an attack on her name and good character by those objecting to her political views and activities in support of Palestinian human rights.

Our professional connection with Shahd Abusalama dates from March 2019 when she gave an eloquent presentation at a conference jointly organised by our network and Birkbeck University of London. At this event she spoke about her experience of growing up in Gaza and the violence and trauma visited upon her family and community. The audience, which included many Jewish people, was deeply moved and, needless to say, utterly cognisant of the fundamental difference between outspokenness about Israel’s war crimes and antisemitism.

We now understand that Ms Abusalama has been targeted by a number of Israel’s supporters in the UK with accusations of antisemitism and that, pending an investigation by the University, her contracted teaching has been withdrawn. This has had a devastating impact on her and potentially her career prospects.

We are concerned that Sheffield Hallam has acted so hastily in withdrawing Ms. Abusalama’s teaching. We wish to draw the University’s attention to the fact that this type of character assassination is not an isolated case but part of a UK-wide, systematic attempt to use the IHRA definition to silence the voice of Palestinian colleagues in many institutional sectors. The intention of this type of coordinated campaign is precisely to deny Palestinians, the freedom to name their oppression and to engage in political activity against it.

It is Ms Abusalama’s high profile activity that has caused her detractors to search for ‘evidence’ of antisemitism. Only one item cited in the press is in any way problematic, and this consists of a tweet from a decade ago when Ms. Abusalama was barely 20 years old, and living under siege in one of Gaza’s refugee camps. This tweet has since been comprehensively disavowed by Ms. Abusalama. Her retraction is linked here.

This search for ways to discredit Ms Abusalama is typical of such interventions against activists, be they academic staff, actors, authors or staff at NGOs. They are commonly coordinated by pro-Israel organisations, including UK Lawyers for Israel, the Campaign Against Antisemitism, and NGO Monitor. While antisemitism undoubtedly exists across the political spectrum, those who are targeted by these organisations are invariably people who criticize Israel and defend Palestinian rights.

Ms. Abusalama is an activist who has been a vocal critic of the ethno-nationalist character of the Israeli state, and its oppressive policies towards Palestinians. She is a supporter of the non- violent Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement which, in the absence of governmental action, represents Palestinians’ best hope of achieving justice. For her to be targeted in this way when no-one engaging in activism towards any other repressive regime faces such toxic campaigns to silence them speaks to a racism towards Palestinians which must not be condoned by your university.

We would also like you to consider the emotional cost to a person such as Ms Abusalama who has come to the UK from Gaza after suffering horrendous oppression at the hands of Israeli state violence and has been successfully building an academic career for herself. At the same time she wishes to fulfil the moral obligation she feels to keep advocating for her people. It is intolerable that she should suffer once again at the hands of supporters of a state which has already visited such pain on her and her family.

We call upon you to stand by and support Ms Abusalama and not be pressured or bullied by those acting on behalf of her oppressors.

Gwyn Daniel, Martin Kemp, Brooke Maddux, Teresa Bailey, Eliana Pinto, Mira Mattar and Christine van Duuren on behalf of 

UK Palestine Mental Health Network  Steering Group