Criticism flares as Jerusalem mayor cancels speaking event
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Mayor Nir Barkat of Jerusalem canceled his upcoming visit to SF State due to dissatisfaction with the event’s organization and lack of publicity.
“The university offered a ticketed, limited event, and no legitimate effort was made on the part of the university to publicize the lecture,” Barkat said in a Twitter statement announcing his cancellation.
Barkat was scheduled to speak to SF State students and community members this Thursday, April 6, at the Seven Hills Conference Center on campus – more than 100 participants were confirmed for the event, according to President Leslie Wong’s cancellation statement on Eventbrite.
Barkat accepted the invitation to return to the University on March 29 and Wong communicated with groups on and off campus prior to the event, according to the cancellation statement.
A description on Eventbrite said that SF State was “committed to the principles of free speech and the open exchange of ideas,” and that Wong hoped the event would lead to an interesting and engaging conversation. However, the University administration did not advertise Barkat’s visit within the SF State community.
The organization of the event received criticism not only by Barkat’s staff but also by community members on and off campus.
“If I were a representative of any other country, no institution of higher learning would have allowed my speech to be drowned out by protesters inciting violence,” criticized Barkat, in reference to last year’s incident.
While Wong hoped the event would facilitate respectful dialogue, Barkat alleges the University had little intention to follow through. “The university’s proposed framework is nothing short of a double standard,” said Barkat in his statement.
An independent review of Barkat’s visit last April, conducted by Van Dermyden Maddux law firm, concluded that while protesters were disruptive, there was no direct verbal or physical threats, thus “no credible threat to public safety.”
Members of SF State’s Hillel, the Jewish student organization that hosted Barkat on campus last spring, said in a letter to Wong that they were only given one week’s notice prior to Thursday’s scheduled event and that his lack of collaboration with students seemed to be a “reckless political stunt.”
Ollie Benn, the executive director of SF Hillel, declined to comment on Barkat’s cancellation but supported the statement SF State’s Hillel wrote.
“Certainly, our plan was not perfect, but it was the best we could do given the time available to prepare and our need to prioritize the wellbeing of all guests,” Wong wrote in the statement. “My invitation was sincere.”
The Palestinian Youth Movement, a transnational organization, shared a post on Facebook asking supporters to reserve spots for the event in order to make demands of Wong, saying that the event comes at the “expense of respect and protection of students and staff who have faced long-term trauma since Barkat’s initial presence on campus in spring 2016.”
Wong is unavailable for further comment and Xpress staff has been told that he is traveling on University business, according to Mary Kenny, director of news and news media at University Communications. The date of his return is unknown.
“Our office doesn’t provide details on the President’s schedule,” Kenny said via email.
Xpress staff reached out to SF State’s General Union of Palestinian Students; however, they did not respond with a comment in time for publication.