SFSU pro-Palestinian group loses funding

By Ron Harris, The Associated Press
Monday June 24, 2002

SAN FRANCISCO – When pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel student groups clashed verbally at San Francisco State University in May, racial taunts and epithets flew but violence was avoided though tensions roiled in for days. 

Now the university has doled out what it considers just punishments for both sides: The pro-Palestinian group was put on probation for one year during which it loses its university funding and Web site. 

The pro-Israel group San Francisco Hillel received a warning letter. 

“We are using all our resources as a university to make the recent tensions, which echo so painfully the whole Middle East situation, an occasion for learning and growth,” said the university’s President Corrigan. “We believe firmly that the skills and habits of open, yet civil, dissent can be modeled and taught. I can think of no more critical work for us to do.” 

Corrigan’s “critical work” became necessary after a May 7 clash in which police had to stand between students from the two groups who shouted derogatory slurs at each other in tense moments captured on videotapes that were reviewed by the university. 

Pro-Israeli students said pro-Palestinian students yelled “die Jews” among other things, while pro-Palestinian students said they were called “camel jockeys” and other names. 

The university reviewed the conduct of both San Francisco Hillel and the General Union of Palestine Students (GUPS) for their actions at the May 7 rally. GUPS was found to have “violated procedures and guidelines for rallies/demonstrations,” the university announced Friday. No similar finding was made of Hillel. 

The conflicts began on May 6, when the Muslim Student Association scheduled a pro-Palestine rally titled “Zionism in Palestine and Around the World.” San Francisco Hillel registered to hold a counter-demonstration. 

As a precaution, barricades were set up to ensure public safety and maintain a distance between the two groups. 

But the turnout was low for the May 6 rally and Hillel did not hold a counter demonstration. Hillel vowed to return the following day and hold a demonstration. 

The university allows counter demonstrations as long as participants stay 30 feet apart. 

Hillel drew 350 students and community supporters on May 7 for its demonstration. A GUPS-sponsored counter demonstration drew about 75 people. 

Hillel’s rally ended and student members began to leave the area when a small number of pro-Palestine supporters entered the plaza and began to wave flags, the university said. Some of the pro-Israel supporters returned and the harsh words began to fly. 

Hillel students were eventually escorted, at their request, from the area by police. No one was physically harmed and no arrests were made, the university acknowledged 

But the university singled out GUPS for harshest punishments, stripping the group of it’s funding and placing it on probation. 

Nabeel Silmi, a San Francisco State junior serving as spokesman for the General Union of Palestine Students, called the sanctions against his group unfair. 

“Things were said on both sides. However, the whole GUPS being held responsible for everybody’s comments on May 7 is completely unacceptable,” Silmi told the Los Angeles Times. 

The University’s hopes to smooth relations between the two groups with the creation of a Task Force on Inter-Group Relations, a campus-community group that will make its first recommendations by August 1. 

A three-day retreat for student leaders was also planned for members of the groups involved in the protests.