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April 13, 2022 3:58 pm

Funding for ‘Blatantly Antisemitic’ Speaker Draws Concern From Jewish Students at ASU, Duke


avatar by Dion J. Pierre

Arizona State University, Tempe. Photo: davidpinter / Wikimedia Commons

High-dollar honorariums that several university student governments paid to bring a controversial Palestinian activist to campus are being denounced by Jewish student groups, pointing to his record of unrepentant antisemitism.

An American college campus tour by 23-year-old Mohammed El-Kurd, in support of his new book, “Rifqa,” has included stops at Arizona State University (ASU), Duke University and American University. Currently a columnist for the left-wing magazine The Nation, El-Kurd has trafficked in antisemitic tropes, demonized Zionism, and falsely accused Israelis of eating the organs of Palestinians.

Ahead of El-Kurd’s recent appearance at ASU, at the invitation of the ASU Palestine Cultural Club (PCC), a coalition of Jewish groups condemned the use of some $9,955 in student government funding for the event — describing his views as diametrical to the university’s values of inclusivity and peaceful dialogue.

“We strongly condemn the use of undergraduate student government funding to host a blatantly antisemitic speaker,” ASU Hillel and other groups posted on March 30.

“While we understand the laws of free speech protect even the most horrific hate speech, we are disappointed that funding from [Undergraduate Student Government-Tempe] will be supporting the visit of El-Kurd, and we are further frustrated that other student clubs would deem him an appropriate speaker for our campus community,” the groups said, calling on Jewish students to write to ASU officials to “express their concerns.”

Despite their protestations, the event went as planned on Sunday. “After months of planning, the Rifqa Book tour was a success; Mohammed read some of his favorite poems, gave us some insight to his writing, and engaged in our audience Q&A giving us hope to not feel disparity as a Palestinian and to use our voice and platform to reach bigger audiences in spreading awareness to our cause in freeing Palestine,” the PCC said.

On Tuesday, an Arizona State University spokesperson told The Algemeiner that it was committed to a “safe environment where the free exchange of ideas can take place.”

“As a public university, ASU adheres to the First Amendment and strives to ensure the fullest degree of intellectual freedom and free expression,” he said. “All individuals and groups on campus have the right to express their opinions, whatever those opinions may be, as long as they do not violate the student code of conduct, student organization policies, and do not infringe on another student’s individual rights.”

The PCC did not immediately respond to The Algemeiner’s request for comment.

In an apparent audio clip of Sunday’s talk, published Wednesday on Instagram by the StopAntisemitism group, El-Kurd is heard quipping, “I suspect some apartheid lovers are here too,” drawing snickers from the crowd. “I was going to read a couple of poems. If you heckle me, you will get shot.”

The event followed another controversial appearance at Duke on March 31 — organized by the school’s Students for Justice in Palestine chapter to coincide with “Israeli Apartheid Week” — for which El-Kurd received $5,000.

The planned speech rekindled a dialogue about the Duke Student Government’s refusal last year to recognize a new Students Supporting Israel chapter, and came weeks after the student body adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance (IHRA) Definition of Antisemitism, according to the Duke Chronicle.

On Friday, Duke SSI President Alexandra Ahdoot said that DSG’s handling of the El-Kurd invitation, and its approval of $16,000 in total funding for “Israeli Apartheid Week” programming, is troubling.

“It was extremely frightening, especially given that our student government had recently passed the IHRA definition and had also done an antisemitism training for their senators,” Ahdoot told The Algemeiner. “It just seemed that their purported values were highly inconsistent.”

Ahdoot herself attended El-Kurd’s speech, during which, she said, “he actually had the audacity to call me out personally.”

“Not by name,” she continued, “but he did try to ridicule me in front of the entire audience, saying that this was the most backlash he had ever received for an entire event, and then he said he didn’t care. But what got really under his skin the most was a student who published an op-ed saying that she felt endangered by his presence, and that student was me.”

“There was something interesting I noticed: he used the terms Jews, Israelis, and Zionists interchangeably, which many antisemites do, but I honestly thought he was going to be more careful coming here so that we wouldn’t have anything to use against him; but he was clearly calling out the Jewish people as a religious group.”

During El-Kurd’s remarks, audience members hooted when he mentioned Zionist students and advocates, Ahdoot recounted. Later, a response he gave during the event’s Q&A portion triggered uproarious applause.

“At one point, someone asked, ‘Mr. El-Kurd, we know you say ‘from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,’ but what about Israelis living in the area?'” Ahdoot recalled. “And, [El-Kurd] says, I quote, ‘I don’t care, I truly sincerely don’t give a f***.’ The audience gave him a standing ovation, it was really deafening. And in that moment I wondered, ‘What has the world come to?'”

Neither a Duke University spokesperson nor the Duke Students for Justice in Palestine chapter responded to Algemeiner requests for comment in time for publication.

On Monday, the Duke Chronicle’s Community Editorial Board wrote an op-ed questioning DSG’s approval of funds for El-Kurd’s speech — as well as that of activist Dana AlHasan, noting she has supported the cause of a man convicted of directing terror attacks. The board asked whether “new standards” for funding of controversial speakers should be adopted, and suggested that financing not be provided to those whose conduct “is clearly objectionable, such as those who promote hate speech.”

“Honorariums are payments of goodwill that reflect the perceived worth of the speaker based on projected student attendance,” the Community Editorial Board wrote. “The honorariums — totaling $5,000 for each of the speakers in this case — are frankly not reflective of the value El-Kurd and AlHasan bring to campus, as their hateful speech marginalizes the Jewish population.”

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