Skipping speech, Jerusalem mayor says SF State University helping ‘demonize’ Israel

Nir Barkat accuses college of double standard, says planned lecture was limited, didn’t make amends for previous heckled event

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Nir Barkat (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Nir Barkat (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said Thursday he would boycott a planned lecture Friday at San Francisco State University to protest what he called a double standard in the way the college had tried to make amends for an event last year that was disrupted by anti-Israel protesters.

In a statement, Barkat explained the return event required pre-registration and was not publicized by the university. By limiting the profile of the lecture, the university had “contributed to the continuing marginalization and demonization of the Jewish state,” he said.

In April 2016 dozens of pro-Palestinian protesters, calling for the liberation of Palestine “from the river to the sea,” disrupted a lecture being given by Barkat and demanded that the mayor be expelled from the campus.

Barkat, who is in the US for various events, was scheduled to give a lecture Friday at the invitation of university president Leslie Wong in what was intended to be a second opportunity for the mayor to speak to students about the capital city he runs.

“President Wong invited me back to the university to provide students the opportunity to learn what they were denied last spring,” Barkat said. “I felt a moral obligation to return to San Francisco State and share Jerusalem’s progress, challenges and opportunities.”

“Unfortunately, the university did not offer the lecture that would provide the kind of healing needed after the assault on free speech last year. I have decided not to participate.”

“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. 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.”

A spokesperson from Barkat’s office told The Times of Israel that there had been an “ongoing dialogue” over the terms of the lecture but that the mayor’s decision to skip the event was now “very final.”

Last year the protesters carrying Palestinian flags called for the continuation of an ongoing wave of violence and an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land, labeling Israel a terrorist and apartheid state. The Jerusalem Municipality said at the time the mayor continued his speech and even descended from the podium to answer questions from the audience while the demonstration went on.

“The university’s proposed framework is nothing short of a double standard,” Barkat declared. “The university has demonstrated that they will protect the rights of anti-Israel students to drown out diverse voices through violent incitement, while they will not protect the rights of the students to engage in open, robust dialogue.”

An internal investigation by the university found the college did not have the proper protocol in place to handle a protest against the Jerusalem mayor during his speech on campus.

In a letter accompanying the university’s report into the spring incident released Friday, the school’s president said there was significant work to be done to improve the campus climate and safety for students, the student newspaper, the Golden Gate Express, reported at the time.

Last month Barkat met with US President Donald Trump’s peace envoy Jason Greenblatt at the White House.

According to a statement issued by the Jerusalem Municipality, the two discussed “issues relating to Jerusalem.”

“Greenblatt is a true lover of Jerusalem,” Barkat said in the statement following the meeting.

Times of Israel staff and AFP contributed to this report.

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