Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat will speak to students and community members on Thursday after being invited by President Leslie Wong without collaboration with students groups.
SF State came under fire a year ago after a protest, led by the General Union of Palestine Students, erupted in the conference center minutes after the start of Barkat’s speech.
The University’s controversial decision to invite the mayor back to SF State – after the campus Hillel group invited him last year – resulted in criticisms from the community, both in support and opposition of Barkat.
The Palestinian Youth Movement shared a statement on its Facebook page addressing the event. The statement said that the SF State administration has undermined the Muslim, Arab and Palestinian presence on campus and demonstrated indifference regarding their safety.
“This invitation 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,” the statement said. “This invitation extended by university president Wong exposes his priorities for campus community, and that priority is not the students who pay increasing tuition and fees to be part of the campus community.”
Sasha Presley, current SF State Hillel student president, said that the group only learned of Barkat’s visit a week prior to the event. She added that though the group is not opposed to Barkat coming, it is opposed to Wong’s conduct in regards to the issue.
“I, along with many other students, will be at the event,” Presley said. “However, we are opposed to the president’s conduct and the lack of student involvement in bringing the mayor back.”
In a letter to Wong, members of the Hillel organization wrote that they only had one week’s notice before the mayor’s visit, saying that Wong’s decision to have the event without consulting students seemed to be a “reckless political stunt.”
“If you have a clear vision for creating a welcoming and inclusive climate for Jewish students on this campus, we want to understand what it is,” the letter said. “Because, unfortunately, your actions are actively undermining Jewish student life, and enabling an environment causing actual discrimination against Jewish students.”
Mary Kenny, director of news and news media at University Communications, said in a statement that the safety and well being of students is the University’s priority and that the University is committed to the open exchange of ideas and free speech.
An independent review of last year’s event, conducted by an investigative law firm, found the campus did not adequately plan for protestors, despite a suggestion from the University police chief to set up a protest area outside the event.
Following the review, Wong implemented a five-point plan, training Student Activities and Events staff and outlining protocols regarding engagement with protesters.
During the last year’s event, Barkat, after several attempts to continue his speech over the chants, ended his visit with shouts trailing behind him.
The event also visit drew attention to SF State’s shortcomings.
“While there is a right to dissent, we must also uphold the right to speak and to learn,” said President Wong in a statement sent out the day after Barkat’s visit.
The letter from Hillel also said that though the page for Barkat’s event states that SF State “is committed to the principles of free speech and the open exchange of ideas,” the University has not publicized the event on social media accounts or emailed students of its existence, contradicting the event’s description as an open exchange.
“If (Wong) actually cared about the open exchange of ideas, should you not bring different perspectives, and create forums that encourage students to come together and share ideas?” the letter said.
Barkat is scheduled to speak at the Seven Hills Conference Center at 10 a.m. on Thursday. Although it was communicated that the event is “free and open to all students,” prior registration, which is now closed, is required for entry.