Chalk writing at San Francisco State University, Feb. 23, 2018. (Photo/Courtesy SF Hillel)
Chalk writing at San Francisco State University, Feb. 23, 2018. (Photo/Courtesy SF Hillel)

‘Antisemitic statements’ at S.F. State meeting prompt university response

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San Francisco State University issued a letter sharing “a deep sense of concern” after a student made “antisemitic statements” during an event planning meeting earlier this month, the university said.

In the latest flare-up surrounding Jewish inclusion and anti-Israel animosity at the state university, an unnamed student, speaking at the March 9 meeting, reportedly called Hillel an “extremist” group and said they would not work with the campus organization.

The incident occurred during a planning session for the celebration of a campus mural, according to Jamillah Moore, vice president of student affairs and enrollment management at SFSU. An S.F. Hillel staffer joined members of several student groups in the virtual session.

“It was reported that, during the meeting, a member of a student organization articulated they did not want S.F. Hillel members collaborating on the event and made anti-Zionist statements,” Moore said.

The meeting on Zoom included about a dozen people representing Latinx student groups, according to Roger Feigelson, the executive director at S.F. Hillel since February. The topic was an on-campus Cesar Chavez mural.

Hillel had been invited to offer a Jewish perspective, he added, noting that the participation of the staff member was not at all related to Israel.

“Why is Hillel here? They’re an extremist Zionist organization,” the staff member recalled the student saying, according to Feigelson. The staff member immediately left the call, Feigelson said.

Feigelson said Moore contacted him “within an hour of the incident,” letting him know what occurred and affirming plans to take immediate action, including by issuing a statement of condemnation.

“As a campus community, we encourage a rigorous exchange of scholarly ideas and debate about Zionism, Israel, and any other world issue,” the SFSU statement, signed by Moore, says. “That debate, however, cannot exclude people from participating in meetings and events based on an assumption of their political stance or religious identity.”

The full statement can be downloaded as a Word document here.

This incident follows multiple incidents on the SFSU campus that Jewish groups characterize as stridently anti-Zionist and often antisemitic.

The partnership between S.F. Hillel and S.F. State is so strong now. We’re on top of this and addressing it together.

In 2016, anti-Israel protesters used a portable sound system to disrupt a speech at SFSU by then-Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat. A year later, S.F. Hillel was excluded from an on-campus “Know Your Rights” fair due to its support for Israel, leading to a discrimination lawsuit and settlement.

In recent years, a furor arose when faculty in the university’s Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Studies program invited Palestinian hijacker Leila Khaled to take part in two virtual panel discussions, first in 2020 and again in 2021.

Shortly thereafter, the “SFSU Campus Climate Assessment Report” — the result of an 18-month collaborative effort that included the university and Hillel International — was issued with several notable findings, including that 65% of Jewish students at SFSU felt at least some need to hide their Jewish identity on campus.

Feigelson, asked if there was a trend of antisemitism at SFSU, said “There’s always been this element there. It’s always been a struggle.”

However, it had been “quiet for some time” before the latest incident, he added.

When interviewed for this article, Feigelson expressed one measure of relief.

“I’m glad none of our students were there [on the Zoom meeting] to get the brunt of this,” he said.

He also said he was heartened by university leaders’ swift denunciation of what happened during the meeting, and the statement issued by Moore. In her statement, Moore also publicized an event being held March 30 at the university called “Responding to Antisemitism” that will feature Alystar Sacks, an assistant regional director at the Anti-Defamation League.

The identity of the individual who made the statement and what student organization they are with have not been made public.

Feigelson said he has been “super impressed with how S.F. State jumped on this … The partnership between S.F. Hillel and S.F. State is so strong now. We’re on top of this and addressing it together.”

S.F. Hillel operates in a house in a residential neighborhood just across 19th Avenue from the SFSU campus, where it also serves Jewish students at the University of San Francisco, UCSF, UC School of Law San Francisco, and several other campuses. It is in the midst of a $7.2 million capital campaign to fund the construction of a new multipurpose facility.

The SFSU Office of Diversity, Student Equity and Interfaith Programs will put on the March 30 in-person program. For more details contact Danille Hoffer, SFSU’s coordinator of Jewish Student Life and Interfaith Programs, at [email protected].

Ryan Torok

Ryan Torok is an L.A.-based freelance reporter and former Jewish Journal staff writer.