Student and community voices sliced through wind and rain on Feb. 13, protesting the university administration’s decision to recognize Israeli Independence Day as a religious holiday on campus.
At the rally, Arab and Muslim Ethnicities Diaspora Studies (AMED) professor Rabab Abdulhadi said she emailed the interim Provost Jennifer Summit, asking the university to remove this political holiday from the list of religious observance holidays.
Under hoods, umbrellas and a tent, members of the General Union of Palestine Students (GUPS), the League of Filipino Students (LFS) and Jews Against Zionism (JAZ) occupied the area between the J. Paul Leonard Library and the Administration Building.
“Last week, we found out SFSU has considered Israeli Independence Day as a ‘religious holiday’ for Judaism, which is an insult to Jewish people and Palestinians who have been displaced, and anyone who supports justice,” Abdulhadi said.
At the rally, student groups held signs and chanted in unison, “Free Palestine,” “Zionism has got to go” and “Stop the attacks. Stop the hate. You’re supporting an apartheid state.”
Katrina Liwanag, a senior sociology major, is still involved with the League of Filipino Students despite taking this semester off. She attended the rally to stand with the league in solidarity for Palestine, which she said continues to be occupied and terrorized by the Israeli forces through air strikes, bombs and land surveillance.
“The Philippines, as a semi-colony of the U.S., has also been facing U.S. occupation in the form of martial law and daily bombings in Mindanao which is [in the] Southern Philippines,” Liwanag said.
She said GUPS has always shared LFS anti-imperialist and anti-colonialist values. These groups have united on many campaigns, including this one condemning the acknowledgement of Israeli Independence Day while not including Ramadan or Eid Al-Fitr, she said.
In an email shared with Xpress and other community members, Abdulhadi provided a list of demands, and email threads between Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Jennifer Summit and former Dean of College of Ethnic Studies Kenneth P. Monteiro acknowledged the error, but did not issue an apology.
Summit replied to Monteiro’s concern saying the inclusion of the Israeli Independence Day as a religious holiday was a clerical error.
The university used a list of religious holidays from Wellsley College’s website and Summit said she did not review it carefully before including it in a campus-wide email.
Among Abdulhadi’s demands at Wednesdays protest was that Summit issue a public statement taking responsibility for the blunder and acknowledge Ramadan and Eid Al-Fitr in the list.
“We demand [Israel Independence Day] be removed from the list, and that SFSU issue a direct and clear apology, and not only to Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims but to other marginalized communities, including our Jewish sisters and brothers who refuse to let Israel speak in their name.”
Many students passing by took out phones to snap pictures and videos of the congregation of protesters demonstrating from beneath umbrellas.
Elishia Beshears, an urban studies and planning major at SF State, paused to observe the scene for a few minutes despite the downpour.
While she has never taken part in a student protest before, she believes rallies like this are important for getting the word out.
“There’s a lot to be gained from when you actually listen,” Beshears said. “You can try to change the way you think based on new information.”
Liwanag said she hopes the administration changes its mind regarding the holiday issue and takes responsibility for its actions.
She said a formal apology is in order to the students of AMED and Abdulhadi, especially since the College of Ethnic Studies will celebrate its 50-year anniversary in March.
“I feel that it is necessary that President Leslie Wong — before he retires and leaves as the president and a new one assumes the office — apologize for openly welcoming Zionists on campus,” Liwanag said. “And for continuously criminalizing and demoralizing student activism, specifically around the Palestinian and Arab Muslim communities.”
Lorenzo Morotti, editor-in-chief