May 10, 2016
VIA EMAIL AND FIRST-CLASS MAIL
Leslie E. Wong, President
San Francisco State University
Office of the President
1600 Holloway Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94132
Dear President Wong:
We write on behalf of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), the oldest and one of the largest pro-Israel organizations in the U.S., whose mission includes fighting anti-Semitism and Israel-bashing on college campuses. We were deeply troubled to learn that on April 6, 2016, a loud group of protesters disrupted the speech of an invited guest to your campus, Nir Barkat, the Mayor of Jerusalem, Israel, infringing on the Mayor’s right to free speech and the right of members of your community to listen to him, learn from him and ask him questions.
According to persons present, Mayor Barkat spoke for no more than five minutes before a group of approximately 25 screaming anti-Israel protesters stormed the room, shouting and drowning out his voice for the next 45 minutes, with chants of “Free, free Palestine!” and “If we don’t get no justice, you don’t get no peace!” Reportedly, the protesters used an amplifier. We understand that University police were present, but disturbingly did not intervene and instead permitted the student offenders to disrespect Mayor Barkat and disrupt his speech in violation of University policies and possibly California’s criminal laws. We even received a report that the police were actually instructed not to remove the disruptors and allowed them to continue their wrongful and perhaps criminal behavior.
We appreciate that you issued a statement the next day, informing the University community that the Dean of Students and University Police would be performing a full investigation of the incident to determine if campus policies were violated. It is now a month since the disruption and your statement. We write to determine (1) the nature, extent and status of the investigation; (2) who if anyone has been held accountable; and (3) what steps the University is taking to ensure that this debacle does not happen again.
Students and Student Groups Must be Held Accountable Under the University’s Standards for Student Conduct
The students who disrupted Mayor Barkat’s event appear to have violated numerous provisions of the University’s Standards for Student Conduct (Title V, 413101), which we quote verbatim below:
- Unauthorized entry into, presence in, use of, or misuse of university property;
- Willful, material and substantial disruption or obstruction of a University-related activity or any on-campus activity;
- Participating in an activity that substantially and materially disrupts the normal operations of the university, or infringes on the rights of members of the University community;
- Disorderly, lewd, indecent or obscene behavior at a University related activity, or directed toward a member of the University community.
- Conduct that threatens or endangers the health or safety of any person within or related to the University community, including physical abuse, threats, intimidation, harassment, or sexual misconduct.
The Standards for Student Conduct make it clear that each of these infractions is grounds for discipline. We look forward to hearing from you about whether students have been held accountable under any or all of these provisions and the nature of the consequences that have been imposed.
Reportedly, members of the anti-Israel group on campus, the General Union of Palestinian Students (GUPS), were among the disruptors, including at least one of the group’s officers. According to the Standards for Student Conduct, if there is evidence that at least three members of a student organization, or at least two of its officers, participated in or were aware, in advance of the intended misconduct, and failed to take appropriate steps to prevent it from taking place, then the student organization may be held accountable for individual members’ actions. Accordingly, please let us know whether your investigation has revealed whether members and officers of GUPS (or any other student group) were involved in the disruption of Mayor Barkat’s speech, and if so, whether GUPS (or any other student group) will be held accountable and punished in accordance with the University’s rules and policies.
Students Must be Held Accountable for Violations of California’s Criminal Laws
In addition to the consequences that should be imposed for violating the University’s rules and policies, the disrupters should also be punished if they violated California law. California Penal Code § 403 provides: “Every person who, without authority of law, willfully disturbs or breaks up any assembly or meeting that is not unlawful in its character. . . is guilty of a misdemeanor.” Moreover, Penal Code § 182 makes it unlawful for “two or more persons [to] conspire to commit any crime.”
As you surely know, anti-Israel students from the University of California (UC), Irvine and UC Riverside were prosecuted and convicted under these laws after they disrupted a meeting and speech by Michael Oren, then the Israeli Ambassador to the United States, at UC Irvine. After the students were convicted and sentenced in 2011, the Orange County District Attorney remarked, “In this case, there was a meticulous, written conspiracy among members of the Muslim Student Union to disrupt a speaker’s right to speak and the audience’s right to listen and ask questions at the end. The defendants decided it was ‘our university’ and they got to decide who spoke, not only at UC but all over our nation. They planned the ‘shutdown,’ calculating who was willing to get arrested, but betting that UCI police would likely not act.”
This scenario sounds strikingly similar to what occurred on your campus. Please do not permit the disruptors at your university to get away with what may well be criminal behavior. If you have not done so already, we urge you to report this matter to law enforcement who can determine whether California law was violated on April 6th, and if it was, how the criminals should be punished.
University Police Must be Held Accountable for their Poor Judgment and Inaction
In addition to the students’ misconduct, University police reportedly failed to fulfill their duty to protect the rights of the invited speaker, Mayor Barkat, and those who came to hear him, learn from him and ask him questions. Not only did the police fail to intervene, but there are also reports that the police were specifically instructed not to intervene. Were the police in fact instructed to do nothing, and if so, by whom? Why didn’t the police protect the rights of the speaker and the individuals who came to hear him? We urge you to ensure that these specific matters are being investigated, and to please let us know the results of the investigation.
Concrete Steps Must be Taken to Prevent Anti-Israel Students from Shutting Down Protected Speech
Anti-Israel students and groups on many campuses firmly support their right to do and say whatever they wish, without regard for the impact on other students, yet hypocritically believe they have the right to disrupt and even shut down speech with which they disagree. Disrupting the speeches of Israeli leaders and representatives like Mayor Barkat has unfortunately become an all-too common tactic of anti-Israel students and student groups on campuses across the country. These tactics are antithetical to “maintaining a safe and healthy living and learning environment,” which your University has committed itself to upholding. Please advise us as to the specific steps the University is taking to ensure that the free speech rights of Israeli and Jewish speakers on your campus, and the right of your community to hear from them, are fully protected.
We look forward to hearing from you and would be pleased to assist you and your administration in addressing these problems on your campus.
Very truly yours,
Morton A. Klein Susan B. Tuchman, Esq.
National President Director, Center for Law and Justice