Jerusalem mayor cancels on eve of California university talk

Nir Barkat (Itzik Edri)

Nir Barkat, the Israeli mayor of Jerusalem, has canceled a talk he was scheduled to give at San Francisco State University on Thursday, accusing the school administration of not sufficiently publicizing the event.

SFSU president Leslie Wong had personally invited Barkat to return to the campus after the mayor’s speech was disrupted by student protesters a year ago.

Barkat initially accepted the invitation just before he traveled to the United States for the annual AIPAC lobby group conference held in Washington, DC, last week.

“A reckless political stunt”

But Barkat made an abrupt about-face on the eve of the event.

“By failing to provide the necessary public forum and properly publicize my lecture, the university has contributed to the continuing marginalization and demonization of the Jewish state,” Barkat said on Wednesday.

“If I were a representative of any other country, no institution of higher learning would have allowed my speech to be drowned out by protesters inciting violence and then bring me back to campus in a limited, secluded way.”

According to a local publication, 25 Jewish students signed an open letter to Wong that called his invitation to Barkat “a reckless political stunt.”

Barkat planned to instead appear at a private event on Thursday hosted by AIPAC.

Following the cancelation, Wong stated that Barkat had given school administration little notice to prepare for the event.

“Since his staff’s confirmation of the event on March 29, we have been expeditiously organizing for his arrival, with safety and respectful dialogue as the primary focus of our preparations,” Wong added, noting that more than 100 people were planning to attend the talk.

Last April, a coalition of SFSU student groups demonstrated against Barkat’s talk in protest of Israel’s policies violating Palestinian rights in occupied East Jerusalem.

The protesters interrupted the talk, delaying it by about 15 minutes. But the mayor resumed speaking to the small audience while the protesters continued to chant for about an hour.

Wong swiftly condemned the protesters, ordered an investigation and extended an open invitation to Barkat to return to SFSU, which stated that the university “is committed to the principles of free speech and the open exchange of ideas.”

Protesters “vindicated”

The findings of the school investigation into the incident, published in August last year, were largely in favor of the students who protested the event.

The General Union of Palestine Students, which took part in the protest, said the report “vindicates” the protesters as it concludes they had not targeted the event because of any bias, as some students alleged, but because of Barkat’s policies.

Barkat has overseen a surge in evictions of Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem to make way for Jewish settlers and demolitions of Palestinian homes.

On Tuesday, three Palestinian apartment buildings in East Jerusalem were demolished for being built without licenses, which are nearly impossible for Palestinians to obtain.

Barkat imposed collective punishment measures targeting Palestinians in late 2015, after a surge in deadly incidents in the city.

At the time, Barkat called for Jewish Israeli residents of Jerusalem to carry arms and demanded the government seal and lock down Palestinian neighborhoods.

SFSU administration did not respond to a request for comment.

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At this point, the only way Israeli politicians can draw a crowd (aside from AIPAC conventions and the like) is to issue an invitation to their opponents to attend the event. The man was embarrassed when told that he would only need a small lecture room in which to give his talk this time, since security measures would exclude his numerous detractors. So he cancelled.

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He's supposed to come to Toronto, too. I hope he cancels. If he comes, he'll get the reception he deserves.

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Is this what we really want, to shut down speakers we don't agee with! I don't think this is a win for anyone. If a speaker cancelling -- even one you disageee with -- is somehow a good thing, all of our 1st amendment rights are at risk.

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Charlotte Silver

Charlotte Silver's picture

Charlotte Silver is an independent journalist and regular writer for The Electronic Intifada. She is based in Oakland, California and has reported from Palestine since 2010. Follow her on Twitter @CharESilver.