Vicious antisemitic attacks against Jewish students on campus are certainly
nothing new, but one particular incident led to a potential tool that could
both help protect Jewish students and offer acknowledgement of their Zionist
Let’s take a look back.
In 2016, San Francisco State University was rated 10th on The
Algemeiner’s List of the US and Canada’s Worst Campuses for Jewish Students, based on the ongoing disruption of activities and deliberate intimidation
of the students. One of the incidents that earned SFSU their
inclusion on The Algemeiner’s list was their response to an appearance by the
then-Mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat when he came to speak. Anti-Israel
students disrupted the speech.
But it was more than just a disruption.
And it resulted not only being
included on a list — it led to a lawsuit.
The lawsuit was triggered following the alleged complicity of senior
university administrators and police officers in the disruption of an April,
2016, speech by the Mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat. At that event organized by
SF Hillel, Jewish students and audience members were subjected to genocidal
and offensive chants and expletives by a raging mob that used bullhorns to
intimidate and drown out the Mayor’s speech and physically threaten and
intimidate members of the mostly-Jewish audience. At the same time, campus
police – including the chief – stood by, on order from senior university
administrators who instructed the police to “stand down” despite direct and
implicit threats and violations of university codes governing campus conduct.
The civil rights lawsuit was brought by The Lawfare Project the following year against then-president Leslie Wong along with several other university officials. The lawsuit alleged that the situation haddeteriorated to the point that “Jews are often afraid to wear Stars of David
or yarmulkes on campus, and regularly text their friends to describe potential
safety issues and suggest alternate, often circuitous, routes to campus destinations.”
As part of the settlement, SFSU agreed to the following:
- Public statement: Issue a statement affirming that “it understands
that, for many Jews, Zionism is an important part of their identity”;
- Coordinator of Jewish Student Life: “Hire a Coordinator of Jewish
Student Life within the Division of Equity & Community Inclusion” and
dedicate suitable office space for this position;
- External review of policies: “Retain an independent, external
consultant to assess SFSU’s procedures for enforcement of applicable CSU
system-wide anti-discrimination policies and student code of conduct”;
- Independent investigation of additional complaints: “SFSU will, for
a period of 24 months, assign all complaints of religious discrimination
under either E.O. 1096 or E.O. 1097 to an independent, outside
investigator for investigation”;
- Funding viewpoint diversity: “SFSU will allocate an additional
$200,000 to support educational outreach efforts to promote viewpoint
diversity (including but not limited to pro-Israel or Zionist viewpoints)
and inclusion and equity on the basis of religious identity (including but
not limited to Jewish religious identity)”; and
- Campus mural: Engage in the SFSU process to allocate “space on the
SFSU campus for a mural to be installed under the oversight of the
Division of Equity & Community Inclusion, paid for by the University,
that will be designed by student groups of differing viewpoints on the
issues that are the subject of this litigation to be agreed by the parties
(including but not limited to Jewish, pro-Israel, and/or Zionist
student groups, should such student groups elect to participate in the
That first condition — San Francisco State University publicly
acknowleding that “for many Jews, Zionism is an important part of their
identity” — was an unprecedented recognition of the importance of
Zionism to Jewish identity.
Just imagine if universities across the country followed this example in
recognition of Zionism. It could be the academic equivalent of the
legislative campaign to have the boycott of Israel made illegal in all 50
When I asked The Lawfare Project about the potential to establish these
guarantees at other universities around the country, they responded that
we think Jewish students will recognize the need to fight for the same
guarantees we’ve received in our settlement agreement with SFSU. We also
believe that our success will serve as fertile ground upon which Jewish
students can begin their journey to fight for their rights on campus.
example, the stand taken in 2019 by Martha Pollak president of Cornell University, in response to the demand by JVP to divest from Israel:
BDS unfairly singles out one country in the world for sanction when there
are many countries around the world whose governments’ policies may be
viewed as controversial. Moreover, it places all of the responsibility for
an extraordinarily complex geopolitical situation on just one country and
frequently conflates the policies of the Israeli government with the very
right of Israel to exist as a nation,
which I find particularly troublesome. [emphasis added]
Pollak not only took a stand against BDS. She publicly stated her
personal rejection of BDS and went beyond vague appeals to
diversity and respect for ideas on campus.
But how many university presidents have been willing to deal head-on with
the problem of Zionophobia on campus?
What are the chances of other universities adopting the measures in the settlement?
For that matter, has San Francisco State University really learned its lesson?
In September 2020, the terrorist Leila Khaled was invited to speak at
SFSU. Khaled participated in the hijacking of TWA Flight 840 from Rome to
Tel Aviv in August 1969. The following year she took part in the hijacking
of an El Al flight from Amsterdam to New York City.
So how did the president of SFSU, Lynn Mahoney, respond in light of the
Let me be clear: I condemn the glorification of terrorism and use of
violence against unarmed civilians. I strongly condemn antisemitism and
other hateful ideologies that marginalize people based on their
identities, origins or beliefs.
At the same time, I represent a
public university, which is committed to academic freedom and the ability
of faculty to conduct their teaching and scholarship without censorship.
Mahoney went on to pay lip service to the now-required recognition of the
Zionist identity of the university’s students:
My conversations with SF Hillel and
Jewish student leaders
have enhanced my appreciation for the deeply painful impact of this upcoming
presenter, as well as past campus experiences.
I understand that Zionism is an important part of the identity of many of
our Jewish students.
The university welcomes Jewish faculty and students expressing their beliefs
and worldviews in the classroom and on the quad, through formal and informal
programming. [emphasis added]
Prof. Judea Pearl, professor of computer science and statistics at UCLA and
president of The Daniel Pearl Foundation, was unimpressed by Mahoney’s
attempt to reconcile welcoming a terrorist who targets Jews on the
one hand with declaring support for the Jewish Zionist identity on
the other. He points out:
it is a logical contradiction from the scientific perspective and a breach
of contract from the legal perspective…and I’m known to be expert on the
Should Khaled ever speak on campus, not only would that be
a breach of the settlement agreement, but also a gross violation of
the university’s fundamental responsibility to protect its Jewish
students. [emphasis added]
hatred on college campuses with the typical weak response by the
university administration. We are all familiar with groups that claim to
affiliate with the Jewish community while rejecting Israel and a Zionist
beginning stages of asserting itself.
Prof. Pearl described the developing situation:
I predict American Jewry will soon undergo a profound, painful and
irreparable split. I cannot think of another period in Jewish history
where the schism was so deep, and growing deeper so rapidly. I see the
split in every aspect of life and on many levels…On the surface, most of our faculty and students are still sitting on
the fence, true, but the polarization is growing; the Zionist group is
becoming more assertive and is closing ranks rapidly, while the
Zionophobic group is becoming louder, more organized and more
aggressive. [emphasis added]
That pro-Zionist voice showed itself in response to a student at USC,
Yasmeen Mashayech, who attacked Jews with tweets such as:
- “I want to kill every motherf**cking Zionist”
- “Death to Israel and its b**tch the U.S.”
- “Israel has no history just a criminal record”
- “yelan el yahood [curse the Jews].”
But even more important than those tweets and the criticism of the
university’s weak response is the reaction from Jewish leaders —
something that has been ignored by the media.
We, the undersigned faculty, wish to register our dismay about ongoing
open expressions of anti-Semitism and Zionophobia on our campus that go
unrebuked. The silence of our leadership on this matter is alienating,
hurtful, and depressing. It amounts to tacit acceptance of a toxic
atmosphere of hatred and hostility.
The letter went beyond just condemnation of antisemitism and rejecting the
university claim that because of legal considerations, USC “cannot discuss university processes or actions with respect to a specific student, much less denounce them publicly.” The faculty said it was time for the university to publicly welcome Zionists on campus:
Jewish, Zionist, and Israeli students, as well as those who support the
right of the State of Israel to exist need to hear from our leaders that
they are welcome on our campus.
Such a statement would not infringe on free speech or take sides in
political dispute. It is a call for character and dignity. It is overdue.
This would parallel the SFSU’s settlement agreement recognizing the
Zionist identity of its students — and not because Zionists need
to be protected as victims. More than that.
Again, Prof. Pearl:
We want the university to say there is something noble about Zionism.
Zionists are welcome here not because everybody needs to be protected,
but because they can contribute here.
This is what has been missing till now from the hand wringing of
universities, with their vague promises to their Jewish students that they
will deal with antisemitism on campus.
This is what has to change.
And the SFSU lawsuit and the USC faculty letter shows that there are those
willing to start to demand it.