‘Why Is Hillel Here?’: San Francisco University Denounces Antisemitism After Criticism of Jewish Organization
by Dion J. Pierre
San Francisco State University (SFSU) issued a statement denouncing antisemitism earlier this month after a student criticized the participation of a Jewish nonprofit member in a virtual campus meeting.
“Why is Hillel here?,” the student, whose identity remains unknown, said on March 9, The Jewish News of Northern California reported on Thursday. “They’re an extremist organization.”
The outburst prompted the Hillel staff member to whom the remark was directed to leave the meeting immediately, Jewish News continued. Later, Roger Feigelson, the group’s executive director, received “within an hour” a communication from the university’s vice president, Jamillah Moore, who assured him that the university would denounce the student’s actions.
“It was reported that during the meeting, a member of a student organization articulated they did not want SF Hillel members collaborating on the event and made anti-Zionist statements,” Moore later wrote in a letter to the campus community. “We want to make clear that San Francisco State University, Associate Students, and the campus community denounce antisemitism in any form. The words go against our values and our mission of creating a safe and inclusive campus community in which we all feel safe and welcomed.”
In response to the incident, on March 30, the university will hold an event titled “Responding to Antisemitism,” which will feature the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) assistant regional director Alystar Sacks. Feigelson told Jewish News that he is “super impressed” with the steps the university has taken to heal any lingering wounds.
“The partnership between SF Hillel and SF State is so strong now,” he continued. “We’re on top of this and addressing it together.”
SFSU has been accused of excluding Hillel before. In 2018, two Jewish students sued San Francisco State University, accusing it of harboring “institutionalized antisemitism.” The suit cited a time when Hillel was allegedly prohibited from participating in a “Know Your Rights” information fair in Feb. 2017. Nearly three months later, in May, Ollie Ben, Hillel’s former director, complained in an op-ed that the university “keeps the organized Jewish community at arm’s length, excludes our students from participating in campus events, allows speakers we invite to be shouted down and refuses to publicly stand against intolerance when it’s directed at the Jewish community.”
SFSU in 2019 settled the suit out of court before it went to trial, agreeing to hire a coordinator of Jewish student life and spend $200,000 on “educational efforts to promote viewpoint diversity (including but not limited to pro-Israel and Zionist viewpoints).”
In 2020, during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, the university’s Department of Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Studies invited notorious Palestinian terrorist Leila Khaled — who twice hijacked planes carrying Israeli passengers as a leading member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) — to speak during a virtual event. Several internet media companies eventually prevented the event’s streaming on their platforms, which led to a row between the university and the professor, Rabab Abdulhadi, who invited Khaled.
Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.