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SF State president apologizes for comments about Zionists

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San Francisco State University President Leslie Wong, pictured in May 2016, issued a public apology on Friday for his “comments about Zionists and whether or not they are welcomed” at the university. (Yesica Prado/2016 Special to S.F. Examiner)

San Francisco State University President Leslie Wong issued a public apology on Friday in light of ongoing allegations of anti-Semitism on campus that led to a lawsuit against the university’s administration in June.

The apology was sparked by a reconciliatory meeting between Wong and members of the S.F. State Hillel student community on Thursday, during which Wong “personally apologized for past comments and actions that were deeply hurtful to them and many other members of the Jewish community,” according to the statement.

“Let me be clear: Zionists are welcome on our campus,” Wong wrote on S.F. State’s website.

In November, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit brought against the university, a faculty member and the California State University’s Board of Trustees alleging a longstanding anti-Semitic culture fostered on campus. The lawsuit was filed by current and former students who claimed to have experienced discrimination in hosting and attending on-campus events.

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The lawsuit was sparked by a 2016 protest of an on-campus event that featured Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, and referenced an incident during which members of S.F. Hillel, an international Jewish campus organization, were excluded from an on-campus civil rights information fair. The lawsuit also attempted to trace back anti-Semitism at the university to the 1970s.

Wong’s public apology referenced an interview with J.Weekly, a Jewish news organization covering Northern California, in which he “[refused] to say that Zionists were categorically welcome on campus,” according to a letter sent to the school’s administration in response to the interview last April.

“My comments about Zionists and whether or not they are welcomed at San Francisco State University caused a lot of anguish and deeply hurt feelings,” Wong wrote. “I am responsible for those words and, after study and reflection, I have come to understand how flawed my comments were.”

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S.F. State professor Rabab Abdulhadi, who is also the director of Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diaspora Studies and was named in the lawsuit, issued a statement Friday demanding a retraction of Wong’s apology.

“I consider the statement from … President Wong, welcoming Zionists to campus, equating Jewishness with Zionism, and giving Hillel ownership of campus Jewishness, to be a declaration of war against Arabs, Muslims, Palestinians and all those who are committed to and indivisible sense of social justice on and off campus,” Abdulhadi wrote.

Following Wong’s apology, the words “Zionists not welcome” and “Zionism = racism” appeared written in chalk in front of S.F. State’s student center, according to the nonprofit organization CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America) on Campus.

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