We have been documenting a clear shift in tactics by anti-Israel campus activists, led by Students for Justice in Palestine joined by other groups.

The shift is towards disruption of Israeli and pro-Israeli speakers on campus in order to create a hostile campus environment. We have reported on several such recent disruptions, including at UC-Davis, University of ChicagoUniversity of Minnesota Law School, UT-Austin, Kings College (London), U. Windsor, University of South Florida, and anLGBTQ Shabbat Event in Chicago. Even events that are not disrupted are protested, such as the appearance of actor Michael Douglas and human rights hero Natan Sharansky at Brown University.

It happened again yesterday at San Francisco State University, where anti-Israel activists have co-opted student protests over proposed budget cuts. International Business Times reports:

Pro-Palestinian student activists disrupted a speech by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat at the University of San Francisco, carrying pro-Palestinian flags, wearing checkered kaffiyehs and raising their fists as they shouted “intifada” — a word used to describe Palestinian uprisings against Israel. They also chanted a popular pro-Palestinian cheer: “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”

Barkat, who spoke Wednesday, carried on his discussion, despite continued interruptions and dozens of students demonstrating outside the venue, Haaretz reported. Police reported to the scene and security guards were called to protect the mayor, who stepped away from the podium and instead spoke among the crowd of interested students before urging the university president and city’s mayor to prevent actions aimed at shutting down free speech in the future.

“Anyone who thinks that calls for violence and wild incitement will silence us or distract us is seriously mistaken,” Barkat said, responding to the disruptions, the Israeli newspaper reported. “We will continue to build, develop and strengthen the state of Israel and a united Jerusalem, and we will continue to voice our positions and we’ll voice them anywhere that invites us, including in places where some attempt to disrupt us.”

The protesters did not cause cancellation of the appearance, but as this video shows, they made it difficult for it to proceed as their shouts for violence and the destruction of Israel made it hard for the speaker to be heard:

San Francisco area Hillel issued the following statement:

An unfortunate and embarrassing incident happened today on SF State’s campus.

A high profile political figure was shouted down and prevented from speaking. Many students came to hear Jerusalem Mayor Nir Birkat, as they had previously for other Hillel speakers this year representing a wide array of views. But a small group of hecklers came today solely to prevent the campus community from hearing a viewpoint they did not like. Unfortunately they succeeded.

There is a concerning trend that college campuses are not spaces where diverse viewpoints are tolerated. Recently, we have seen acts of outright hostility and physical aggression when one person did not agree with the views of another on campus.

We’ve tried incredibly hard at SF Hillel to be a responsible partner on campus for civil discourse, and to contribute to a more positive environment for dialogue, tolerance and education. Today’s disappointing events demonstrate that one party alone cannot effect change; it requires the commitment of the entire University community to create a diverse place of learning that is tolerant, respectful and dedicated to its academic mission.

We are working with our partners on and off campus, and will provide further updates in the coming days and weeks. We will ensure that campus continues to be a space that promotes the robust exchange of ideas.

We are once again proud of our Hillel students who were not intimidated by today’s interruptions. Even though the Mayor could not continue his public remarks, many Hillel students stayed to learn from Mayor Barkat in a smaller group, and to ask him their earnest and challenging questions, over the shouts of those who tried to silence them.

The goal of these disruptions is to crate a hostile environment for Jewish and pro-Israel students so that only anti-Israel messages are acceptable on campus. SJP and other anti-Israel activists have the legal apparatus of Palestine Legal and the public relations media outreach of Jewish Voice for Peace backing then up with the absurd claim that criticizing disruptive tactics is “stifling” Palestinian voices.

The claim that SJP and other anti-Israel activists do not have to abide the rules applicable to other groups and should have Freedom from Criticism is the passive aggressive tactic that allows SJP and its allies to create hostile campus environments.

That hostile environment manifests itself in many ways, such as the fear of Jewish students at Oberlin College to speak on the record even as to blatant acts of anti-Semitism. The Daily Beast reports, Why Are Oberlin’s Students So Silent About Anti-Semitism?:

The silence from students when it comes to [Professor Joy] Karega’s remarks was deafening to some, and especially disconcerting because the silence seemed disproportionately reserved to matters related to Judaism or Israel. [WAJ note – see here re Karega.]

The Daily Beast spoke to the small group of Oberlin Jewish students who do not identify as anti-Zionists and feel increasingly threatened, censored, and silenced by their peers and the Oberlin community who are impatient and dismissive of complaints of anti-Semitism. They also stressed they loved Oberlin.

These students would speak to The Daily Beast only on the condition of anonymity, a reflection of their fears about expressing pro-Jewish or pro-Israel views publicly. All identifiers are pseudonyms.

At Vassar, both in 2014 and 2016, pro-Israel Jewish students have been mocked and jeered at campus forums by SJP and its supporters:

The campaign for a BDS resolution at Vassar has continued to flood the campus with broad condemnations of the U.S. and Israel as imperialist, racist and genocidal. Countless declarations that students “must struggle against Israel”; making the Vassar Student Association debate this issue while pro-Palestinian students heckled, laughed and ridiculed those who opposed BDS; and the refrain that all this is not anti-Semitic — all this amounts to a mass intellectual trolling campaign….

Anti-Jewish speech off and on campus is very real, and it is starting to have long-term effects.

There is a move afoot to ban Students for Justice in Palestine at the City University of New York.

The San Francisco State disruption, as other disruptions elsewhere, demonstrates that this is a nationwide problem and widely shared tactic, not isolated instances.

UPDATE: The President of SFSU issued a strong statement after the disruption:

April 7, 2016

Dear SF State Community,

I am concerned for the state of civil discourse on our campus. There have been a number of events this academic year which have caused me to think extensively about our values and our mission.

Nir Barkat, Mayor of Jerusalem was invited to speak yesterday on campus by SF Hillel, a student organization. The Mayor’s talk, held at Seven Hills, was disrupted by a small but loud group of protesters.

Members of our community who attended the event were deprived of an opportunity to hear from the Mayor.

As an inclusive academic institution, we strive to make San Francisco State University a welcoming environment for all. Students are encouraged to engage in thoughtful and respectful dialogue about difficult or controversial issues and, at the same time, to respect the rights of others to do the same. While there is a right to dissent, we must also uphold the right to speak and to learn.

The Dean of Students and University Police will perform a full investigation of this incident to determine if any violations of campus policy occurred. In addition, I am committed to examining the university’s planning and response mechanisms to better ensure that student events of this nature can occur unimpeded in the future.

We must come together as a campus to foster a supportive and collegial environment in which
disagreements can occur thoughtfully and respectfully. We must strive to live our values—and to be a safe place where all the members of our community are free to listen and to learn.

I would appreciate your support in promoting this core value so the entire SF State community can feel welcome and safe to engage in the free exchange of ideas and views that is essential to our campus.

Sincerely,

Les Wong
President