Xpress logo
Posted 8:22 am
December 11, 2013

Non-student groups force President Wong to address student rights of free speech

At the At the “State of Emergency” rally Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013, the phrase “My Heroes Have Always Killed Colonizers” was written with chalk onto the stage in Malcolm X Plaza. Photo by Benjamin Kamps / Xpress

SF State President Leslie E. Wong sent out a mass email to the campus community Monday, addressing a balance between expression and safety.

Wong wrote the letter in response to two recent events involving students that have garnered harsh scrutiny, and become the subject of debate. Wong referred to two events, one organized by the General Union of Palestine Students (GUPS) and one posted on a GUPS member’s personal blog. Both have been challenged by the AMCHA Initiative, a watchdog organization for anti-Semitic and anti-Israel activities at universities.

“Strong opinions — and strong disagreements — are essential to the life of our democracy, and the life of our university,” Wong said. “While one may want to step in and sanction a student or colleague for speech we find repugnant, our obligation is to allow the lawful airing of views.”

The first incident happened at the Edward Said mural celebration, which GUPS organized with other campus organizations, where tables were set up for art projects. At one of the tables there was a stencil that read, “My heroes have always killed colonizers,” which the AMCHA Initiative considered anti-Semitic.

The quote, originally referred to a specific rhetoric of Native American resistance and at the rally was held by members of Student Kouncil of Intertribal Nations (SKINS), el Movimiento Estudiantil Chican@ de Aztlán (MEChA) and GUPS.

GUPS posted a picture of a member, holding the sign at the celebration, on their group website and it has since received harsh scrutiny from outside sources, including the AMCHA Inititive.

“In the context of the day’s events honoring the Palestinian Mural’s subject Edward Said, who notoriously accused Israeli Jews of being ‘colonizers,’ the stencil clearly refers to the killing of Jews,” said Tammi Benjamin, co-founder and director of the AMCHA Initiative. “Language and images that glorify and honor the murder of Jews are anti-Semitic.”

The second, online incident is the AMCHA Initiative’s exposure of GUPS President Mohammed Hammad, who posted a picture of himself on his personal blog holding a knife and wrote “I seriously can not get over how much I love this blade. It is the sharpest thing I own and cuts through everything like butter and just holding it makes me want to stab an Israeli soldier.”

Although the picture was posted in August, it too received harsh criticism and has since been removed. This most recent incident prompted the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which runs the Museum of Tolerance, to warn President Wong of a “potential threat” to Jewish students.

Wong issued a response promising to investigate the situation, in which he said hate speech of any kind had no place at SF State, but he stood behind all student’s rights to free speech.

GUPS said both accusations are a smear campaign by Tammi Benjamin and the AMCHA Initiative, which GUPS claims is trying to silence them.

After President Wong issued a statement condemning the language of the stencil, GUPS member Francisco González said the organization felt betrayed by Wong.

González said GUPS’ concern is of the well-being of Palestinians in their homeland and abroad, and they are not trying to harm people.

“We don’t have a position on Jews. We have a problem with Zionists,” González said. “You can be an Atheist and be a Zionist. You can be Christian and be a Zionist. You can be Jew and be an anti-Zionist,” González said.

He condemned outside organizations that claim to speak on Jewish students’ behalf, without listening to the whole story.

The language used in the incidents President Wong referred to, but did not mention, in his email is legally protected speech, according to mass communication law teacher David Greene. He reiterated that Wong was not condemning the acts in his email, but instead encouraging civil discourse.

“Universities, especially public universities, play an essential role in fostering debate,” Wong wrote. “We work hard to achieve a balance where both expression and safety are fostered.”

  • garyfouse

    Mr. Gonzalez, who I assume is not Palestinian,

    I would suggest you do some further research, such as investigating the Hamas Charter and its references to Jews, or the statement of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah that all Jews should gather in Israel so as to make the task of hunting them down much easier.

    No, Mr Gonzalez; the people you are throwing your lot with do, indeed, have a position on Jews.

  • FORGOTTEN

    University is a Great and Peaceful Place, Some That Dislike It Are About To Create Havoc And Confussion Among The Students, This Tactics Are Usually Used In War Countries, So When They Said Let’s Bring Our Soldiers Back Meant, Star One Here Right At Home, Why? Federal Money Around Here Is For Education Purposes And For The Improving Of Students Lives, Not For People Wanting Terrorize The Campus, Is Our Campus Next To Be On The News, Why Not Keep All These Quite, Everybody Knows is Freedom Of Speech, Just Anoter Strategy To Terrorize Studnts Right Nw When Is Finals Weeks, Last Year Was Alarms Going On Right in The Middle Of Exams, President Should Keep From Helping This Speech Claimers By Alarming The Entire Campus , Kind Of Marketing Strategy to Magnify Terror In Campus!

  • ThisIsPalestine

    “We don’t have a position on Jews. We have a problem with Zionists,” González said.

    And what is your position on “Zionists?” That they should be beheaded, like your psychotic president says?

  • PVV

    You can find extremists on either side. There are also Jews and Palestinians working together for Peace in the Middle East. I was meandering one day on the internet, on you tube, and a rightwing group of Israeli settlers were partying, drinking and talking about wiping out all Arabs, not just Palestinians. I have heard Hezbollah speak of slaughtering Christians and Jews. Violence is not an answer, but peace in the middle east must be addressed, and so far the political powers that be have been too cowardly, on both sides to go that extra mile. Free speech must be protected, at all costs, for sure. At the same time, the President was very responsible. to remind people that there are ethical consideration regarding speech. Acts entailing extremely violent speech such as a direct threat to an individual, as opposed to an abstraction, would be criminal. “Think about it,” is what I believe she was saying. Speech has caused terrible damage to millions of people, think of Hitler, or General DeWitt, whose bigotry allowed him to fabricate a non-existent threat from Japanese Immigrants and their American Children. His lies sent them to concentration camps in the U.S., in direct contradiction to their constitutional rights while endangering all of ours. I am not Palestinian or Jewish, nor what people call a person of color. Though to be honest, I am not translucent, either!

    • williambilek

      “Free speech must be protected, at all costs, for sure. ”
      So using the term “niggers”, in a non-violent context, of course, should be acceptable to you, and the President of SFSU, right?

      • PVV

        No it is not acceptable to me, it makes me sick as a member of a mixed race family including African American. Nevertheless, free speech is guaranteed by the constitution as long as you don’t violate other peoples rights. You can think, believe or say anything you want. However people should discourage the use of racist or homophobic language. Free speech is inviolable. On private property, however it can be blocked. When it involves getting in someone’s face and intimidating them it becomes an action rather than speech. Good people should shout down those who say racist things in public, whether at SFSU or anywhere, They should give comfort to the people being abused by speech, whether they are black, white, brown, yellow, or any other combination.

        • Tzur

          When “free speech” becomes open incitement to violence and hate-crimes, it should be forbidden. I suspect that you would agree in regard for example to Klu Klux Klan speeches in the Old South.

          As for “shouting down” those who say merely racist things not inciting violence, your recommended tactic would itself promote violence, and so that too fails the decency and civil order tests.

          Before the Nazis took power, it was their policy to “shout down” speakers at liberal democratic and social democratic political rallies, and fight to stay in the halls, producing bloody riots at those rallies. The Social Democrats organized their own fight squads that “shouted down” speakers at Nazi rallies. This led to open street battles in most German cities. The liberal center had chaos on its hands. The Nazi aim behind such tactics was achieved: the overall polarization and radicalization of German society, with the liberal center being squeezed into passive frightened silence. Fascism won using your criteria. Is this your preferred option, PVV?

        • williambilek

          Just to get it right: I did not suggest that the term should be “acceptable” to you, only that my right to use it in public is acceptable.In the interest of consistency, then, it appears that you agree. As to “getting in someone’s face and intimidating them”, I think there is no doubt that ACTIONS of so-called pro-Palestinian (they are not, really) groups have demonstrated exactly that innumerable times.

          Then, you go on to write: “Acts entailing extremely violent speech such as a direct threat to an individual,..”

          would you deny that ““My heroes have always killed colonizers,” referring (disingenuously) to Jews fits exactly that description? Should “good people” “shout down” those comments?

    • Tzur

      No, PVV, settlers do not “talk … about wiping out all Arabs, not just Palestinians,” nor do they even talk about wiping out all Palestinians. I cannot speak for each and every one of them, but there are exactly zero settler spokespeople speaking in this way, let alone mainstream Israeli politicians or religious leaders. On the other hand, genocidal intentions are mainstream and official in Hamas, and often expressed by Fatah and other Palestinian groups’ leaders. Mahmoud Abbas wrote his doctoral dissertation on Holocaust denial, affirming it, and just this year glorified the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, the leader of Palestinian terrorism during the 1920s-30s, who during WWII lived in Germany and issued fatwas demanding Muslim enrollment in the Nazi army. Sympathy for Nazism is still explicit in all Palestinian sectors, since it had much the same the authoritarianism and lauding of violence against Jews found in Palestinian media, pulpit speeches, school texts, and official pronouncements. Just this past week Farouk Kaddoumi, PLO leader and “Foreign Minister” justified the Palestinian cooperation with the Nazis before and during WWII, and approved the Nazi genocide itself, on the grounds that they were fighting the same enemy: “Zionists” (Kaddoumi’s code word, obviously, for world Jewry itself, since they were the ones being annihilated). It is official policy of the P.A. in its “peace negotiations” that all Jews must be ethnically cleansed from the “Palestine” they envisage, and no human rights would be extended to them at all. This contrasts with the equal civil rights extended to Israeli Arabs in Israel itself, and the liberal democracy and pluralism affirmed from its creation that makes Israel the sole liberal democracy in the Middle East.

      One of the patent ironies of the 20% of ASA members who actually voted for BDS is that they are self-styled “anti-fascists” who are endorsing the contemporary forms of antisemitic fascism in the Middle East, even exactly those groups actively targeting Jews and murdering them. Their actual indifference to human rights issues affecting the Palestinians themselves is shown in their complicit silence about Palestinian violations of their own people’s human rights which are far more serious and general than any Israeli violations. As just one telling instance, Palestinian “refugees” are not given open citizenship and freedom of residence nor employment but are still cooped up in “refugee camps” in the P.A. territories themselves.

      • PVV

        I was not going to respond to this forum anymore, but claiming I fabricated something I decided to do so for clarification.

        First of all I never claimed settlers as a class did any such thing. However, for you to suggest none have done so is also wrong. I came to SFSU when I was 18, for two years and dropped out. I worked for politicians, until I was almost twenty five, until I realized that 98% of politicians are corrupted by power, regardless of party. This tends to be true in any country and within any fanatical cause. This prompted me to come back to SFSU at age 25, and resume my education–in anything other than politics. I am now a science major so I hope to use my education to help people in the future.

        I did see on YouTube a group of settlers, (One Group, mostly males in their mid to late twenties would be my guess). This group of settlers representing perhaps 25 individuals at the most. I do not extrapolate from that, to say all settlers hate Palestinians or Arabs. I am saying there are groups of individuals who do, and who have said they would like to see them all killed. I have read in Ha’aretz, about settlers, individuals, put in prison by Israeli police for murdering innocent Palestinians. Also ex-Israeli Military individuals, who formed an assassination arm, outside the government, whose plan was to kill Arabs, to the credit of the Israeli police and courts, in this instance they were caught and punished. I have also seen Jews in Israel denounce violence, one of which was a young woman who was speaking of behalf of her Palestinian friends, apologizing for the words and actions of the YouTube extremists. A young Jewish woman who has a very humanitarian open minded sensitivity. I have seen numerous documentaries, which prove there are individuals, some of whom comprise groups on both sides, expressing a hatred so strong they advocated murder. I have also, seen the head of Hezbollah, call for the slaughter of all Christians and Jews. I saw a documentary of Israeli Jewish citizens, who came to the rescue of Palestinian workers, who the Individuals within the IDF, were harassing at a checkpoint. So there are clearly extremists on both sides. People who hold a hatred for other people based on ethnicity. Bigotry and Hatred represent, for those with that mindset, an unfortunate cancer in the entire human body. Within the Arab community the same cancer exists, within the American society, within Europe. Some of these are blood feuds, but they must be stopped, in other words they are retaliations for heinous acts, like suicide bombers. Violence won’t stop till the feuding parties pledge to end it, while who refuse as individuals should be arrested, hopefully before a murder or bombing, unfortunately if not before, afterwards and dealt justice.

        The issue here originally was free speech, it is an inviolable right, but not without some limits. There are ways to combat hate speech with speech as well, like those Nazis who demonstrated in Idaho, the anti Nazis outnumbered them vastly, and who looked like the idiots by allowing them to have their march? The neo-Nazis look like fools. I suggest reading, John Mill Jr. “On Liberty.” Who said that denying such people free speech will drive them underground, out of the light of day where they can multiply like fungus, (Or something similar to that).

        Free Speech does have limits, you can not scream fire in a theater. You cannot stalk someone and harass and intimidate them shouting racist slurs. Thats harassment an act, and a crime. On private property and to some extent on campus, speech can be restricted, if it disrupts others. A professor can throw a student out, if they are trying to study Biology and he is ranting about killing members of some group or race. A professor can not punish a student for his private views outside class, at least legally. Nor can he abuse anyone for their religion or ethnicity in class, like a recent case where a Muslim girl was threatened by a teacher who for discipline, threatened to rip off her head piece. That was illegal. Similarly if a Christian wear’s a cross, or a Jew with a Tefillin. Though its true sometimes people get away with such discrimination, the courts have most often ruled it illegal. When there is conspiracy to commit murder, which happened in Oregon, to I believe a Nigerian man. The organization was found to have gone beyond the limits of free speech. Nevertheless, the breadth of free speech that must be protected, includes things people write or say which make me sick. Talking of killing Zionists, or Jews, or Arabs, Muslims, or Palestinians. Zionists believe in something, whether right or wrong, as long as they don’t kill or harm others, they have a right to free speech, life and liberty. Same goes for Anti-Zionists. I think we both would agree there is a line where the speech becomes a threat, and when that is the case, it is a crime. I don’t give a damn what any lawyers on campus say. I worked with politicians who were lawyers, and have studied the issue. Looking at individual cases and how the Supreme court has ruled, as well as Federal Circuit courts. What I have said about free speech is generally accurate, I may have made some very minor mistakes but what I generally about free speech, is a fact concerning where the courts are with this issue, which supports my point of view. Courts do make mistakes and I am sure there are examples in recent years of bad rulings and in the past there was institutionally: denied free speech to certain minorities. I don’t hate anyone, I don’t like the feeling, nor is it aesthetically pleasing. Anyway this is an extremely long post, but I hope I clarified my self.

        • Tzur

          I see that this post is an attempt to answer both my comment just above, and my comment to another post by you justifying “shouting down” speakers at pro-Israel events. You have actually not answered the points I made in these two posts, PVV, merely provided anecdotes about yourself, argued that it should be permitted to incite violence and even threaten murder against those you disapprove of (wrongly citing John Stuart Mill on this), and generalized wildly from one YouTube about settlers.

          • PVV

            “Universities, especially public universities, play an essential role in fostering debate,” Wong wrote. “We work hard to achieve a balance where both expression and safety are fostered.”, those are the remarks of I think the President I was responding to initially. I think I may have gone off on a broad political tangent. If there is more behind this, if the president condoned hate speech, or something I am unaware of, then you have a point. If so someone should look into it and pursue it, see who said what, and if anyone did go beyond what is legal. Perhaps an injunction should be sought. I don’t know all the details here, Only a court of law could possibly make such a determination. I originally meant to, simply, support the quoted statement above. I am not here to debate. I stated a point of view, I tried to correct some misinterpretations of my views, I probably shouldn’t have delved into broader issues outside the generality; that I believe in the quote which heads this post..

  • SamXie

    Zionism- the relationship of the Jewish people with their ancient homeland of Israel is an important part of Judaism. Maybe Mr. Gonzales should talk to some campus Zionists, so he understands just what he claims to be against.
    Its hard for me to fathom that direct threats and incitement to violence are “protected free speech” . I’m sure that gives cold comfort to Jews and Israelis at SFSU.

  • kimgaddy

    It was nice to see the custodians get a chance to speak. I didn’t really get what some of the other speakers were trying to say. Most seemed to read or get confused while speaking making it somewhat hard to follow. The crowd of approximately 20 to 30 seemed interested for the most part.

  • Pingback: AMCHA pushes legal action on SF State group GUPS and its members | Golden Gate Xpress