Protest against guest speaker Prof. Jeffrey Blutinger at San Jose State University. (Photo/Hagit Shekel)
Protest against guest speaker Prof. Jeffrey Blutinger at San Jose State University. (Photo/Hagit Shekel)

Jewish prof gets police escort for safety amid SJSU protests

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A lecture on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by a visiting academic at San Jose State University ended abruptly Monday. Jeffrey Blutinger, the director of Jewish studies at Cal State Long Beach, was forced to leave under police escort after student demonstrations targeted him and his talk about pathways to peace.

The incident also involved a scuffle between student protesters and an SJSU professor, who has since been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation, according to the school.

“My talk was basically about why we need to have a two-state solution and peace,” Blutinger told J., adding that he has advocated for the past 40 years for two states as the best solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

However, his lecture was targeted for protest and shared widely on social media. The lecture was originally a public event and scheduled at the university library, but was moved to a smaller venue by campus police.

“There’s only one door to the room [in the library] and the police were apparently concerned I’d be trapped,” said Blutinger, a professor of Jewish history.

Sang Hea Kil, a faculty member in justice studies at SJSU and co-chair of the Palestine Arab Muslim caucus of the California State University faculty union, told J. that students planned to disrupt the lecture in protest of Blutinger, whom she said has views on Israel that are “problematic.”

Kil, who is also SJSU’s faculty adviser to Students for Justice in Palestine, said the students wanted to “express their desire to stop the genocide that’s happening in Palestine.”

Blutinger’s lecture, titled “Constructing a Just Solution: Where Israelis and Palestinians Go From Here,”  was moved to a classroom where only students enrolled in a specific class could attend. The protest was confined to the hallway, although during the lecture, “there were people trying to enter and the police were pushing them back,” Blutinger said.

At one point during the lecture, an altercation began in the hallway. J. was given multiple accounts of what occurred, not all of which could be corroborated. A video sent to J. showed students lining the hallway and chanting.

Protest against guest speaker Prof. Jeffrey Blutinger at San Jose State University. (Photo/Hagit Shekel)
Protest against guest speaker Prof. Jeffrey Blutinger at San Jose State University. (Photo/Hagit Shekel)

In the video, a man identified as SJSU history professor Jonathan Roth stood in the hallway amid the pro-Palestinian demonstrators. He attempted to film a chanting protester with his phone. The protester put her hand directly in front of the phone. Roth then moved the protester’s hand down. A scuffle ensued, and police intervened.

“There was a small melee that happened because people were obviously protective of her,” Kil said.

The university administration issued a statement and emailed it to J. on Tuesday: “An altercation took place in the hallway involving a faculty member and demonstrators. The decision was made by university administration to end the presentation. SJSU’s University Police Department safely removed the speaker and the students attending the presentation. The demonstrators then moved to the exterior of the building. No injuries have been reported. There have been no arrests and no charges have been filed at this time.”

Roth did not respond to J.’s requests for comment.

The university administration issued an additional statement on Wednesday. “The circumstances of Monday’s incident, which led to the guest speaker and students being removed from a classroom, are still under investigation. An SJSU employee involved in the altercation has been placed on administrative leave, pending additional review pursuant to campus protocols,” the email stated.

Kil said the protest continued outside and included chants to “arrest Jonathan Roth,” she said, “which I think is very appropriate.”

Frank Belcastro, an SJSU campus police officer, confirmed to J. that no arrests had been made.

Blutinger said that police protection was planned for him from the very start, after Instagram posts by the SJSU Students for Justice in Palestine and other accounts posted about his talk.

One of the posts, which has since been deleted, stated that “Zionists are not welcome” at the university.

Blutinger said he wasn’t rattled by the need for police protection or the protesters, even though his lecture was interrupted. But he was clear that he believed the protesters were there to shut him down no matter what he had to say, in violation of civil discourse.

“These people were not interested in having the discussion,” he said.

 

Maya Mirsky
Maya Mirsky

Maya Mirsky is a J. Staff Writer based in Oakland.