San Diego State students protest ‘terrorism’ fliers
San Diego State University students upset over fliers posted on campus that identified some students as terrorism supporters confronted President Elliot Hirshman on Wednesday, briefly preventing him from leaving in a campus police car.
Protesters were upset over Hirshman’s delayed response to the fliers, which claim that seven named students “have allied themselves with Palestinian terrorists to perpetrate” hatred against Jewish students on campus.
“We wanted the president to come to our defense as students,” said political science student Osama Alkhawaja, 22, whose name appeared among those listed.
The fliers are believed to be created by an organization led by conservative activist David Horowitz of Los Angeles. The website for the David Horowitz Freedom Center appears at the bottom of the fliers.
The David Horowitz Freedom Center did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
Hirshman and another university administrator responded to the fliers in an email to students, saying that naming students who are opposed to a certain viewpoint could discourage them from taking part in political discussions, while emphasizing that the university supports free speech.
“It’s always difficult balancing free speech with things that make people uncomfortable, and we deal with that every day on campus,” university spokesman Greg Block said. “But in the end, free speech wins out, and we support that.”
The students participating in the protest Wednesday felt that Hirshman’s email failed to condemn the fliers and advocate for the safety of the students who were listed. Many sought an apology.
“My friends are not terrorists, and if their names are being posted around campus, that’s an issue of security,” said Spanish and Portuguese-language student Jeanette Corona, 23. “No student should be demonized. ... It’s [Hirshman’s] job to ensure the safety of all students on this campus.”
Block said he did not know how much time elapsed between when the fliers were discovered and when Hirshman and Vice President of Student Affairs Eric Rivera issued a statement about them. Students said it took two weeks.
“Any time something happens on campus, people want the president to make a statement,” Block said. “He can’t make a statement for everything that happens.”
The students decided to hold a silent protest at a 4 p.m. ceremony Hirshman was attending to swear in next school year’s student government leaders.
“But once he saw us, he left. He didn’t make eye contact with us,” Alkhawaja said.
Several students followed Hirshman, who got into a campus police car that planned to take him to his own vehicle. Block said it is not unusual for the president to be escorted when there’s a protest on campus.
Corona said she knew students were eager to speak to Hirshman. She was among the first who surrounded the police vehicle and prevented it from leaving.
“I stood in front of the car — people were standing on the side — and I told everyone, ‘Join me. Please don’t leave me alone. Stand your ground. Link up. Hold hands,’ ” she said.
As Hirshman sat in the car, students chanted, “Hirshman, Hirshman, come on out. We have something to talk about.”
After nearly an hour, Hirshman got out of the vehicle and talked to some students. Members of the administration offered to set up a meeting between several students and the president.
“We said, ‘Listen, there’s no way all these students are gonna leave just because you’re gonna meet with me. The only thing that will get these students to leave is a public admission that you’re sorry for the way that you’ve treated them,’ ” Alkhawaja said.
The students eventually got what many wanted.
“If we have done things inadvertently that have upset or hurt people, we are sorry for that,” Hirshman told the students.
“It definitely feels like a victory. For all the students that put in so many hours trying to get the administration to listen to us, we feel like at least we got something: a public apology,” Alkhawaja said.
Students and Hirshman agreed to meet at a later time to discuss the matter.
Alkhawaja and the other students say they were targeted for supporting the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement, which calls for divestment against Israel “until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights,” according to the organization’s website.
Last year a number of student groups at San Diego State, including the Muslim Students Association, Students for Justice in Palestine, Women’s Outreach Association and the Queer Students Union rallied behind a resolution that would have called for the Campanile Foundation, which manages university donations, to stop investing in companies that have a stake in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, according the university’s newspaper, the Daily Aztec.
Those against the change said the resolution would contribute to a larger hate movement that calls for the destruction of the only democracy in the Middle East. Students Supporting Israel, the Jewish Student Union and Young Americans for Liberty were against the resolution.
Ultimately, the resolution was supported by nearly 53% of students who voted, short of the two-thirds majority needed for it to pass.
Since then, students involved in the movement against Israel have been repeatedly attacked, Alkhawaja said.
Posters similar to those at San Diego State began appearing April 15 at UCLA’s campus, where officials denounced the posters and met with the students targeted, according to the university’s newspaper, the Daily Bruin.
“This serious escalation amounts to a focused, personalized intimidation that threatens specific members of our Bruin community,” Jerry Kang, vice chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion, said in an email to UCLA students regarding the posters.
The fliers posted at San Diego State were not the first time Horowitz has criticized the university. In February 2015, the David Horowitz Freedom Center named San Diego State sixth on a list of 10 school’s nationwide with the worst record for anti-Semitic activities.
The list sited incidents associated with the university’s Students for Justice in Palestine organization as evidence.
The list was denounced by school officials, the head of the local Coalition for Justice in Palestine, the Anti-Defamation League and Hillel, an international organization devoted to fostering Jewish life on campus.
Hernandez, Warth and Winkley write for the San Diego Union-Tribune.
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