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SFSU president: University ‘failed’ students in handling of Israel-Palestine protest

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San Francisco State University President Leslie Wong speaks during a news conference Monday, May 9, 2016. (Yesica Prado/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

San Francisco State University failed to properly handle a protest against the mayor of Jerusalem during his speech on campus this spring, an independent investigation into the incident has found.

Though there was no evident danger, the protest caused a handful of students on both ideological sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to fear for their safety in the aftermath of the demonstration, according to the report.

“The inadequate response prior to, during and following the event falls squarely on the shoulders of San Francisco State University administrators,” SFSU President Leslie Wong said in a statement to the campus community Thursday upon reviewing the report.

“We failed our students — both the event attendees and the protesters — through multiple inactions,” he added.

On April 6, a cohort of protesters from the General Union of Palestinian Students and other student groups interrupted Nir Barkat, the mayor of Jerusalem, with chants while he spoke during an event put on by San Francisco Hillel, the local Jewish student organization based at SFSU.

Neither group responded to requests for comment.

The incident was just one of several outbursts in recent years between the Jewish and Palestinian student groups on campus. In 2013, a picture appearing to show the GUPS president with a knife alongside a caption that read “just holding [the blade] makes me want to stab an Israeli soldier” raised concerns among Jewish students when it was posted online.

The protest and report have prompted the university to tweak its student conduct policies, as well as provide more training to its police officers and staff around their response to protests, according to the university.

Videos posted on social media show how the speech panned out.

The protesters congregated in the back of the room, and forced Barkat to gather the audience in a small circle so that his voice could be heard over chants like, “End the occupation now,” and “Israel is an apartheid state,” according to the report.

The investigation concluded that the protesters violated a student policy that prohibits interfering with scheduled programs and “unauthorized sound amplification,” but in the aftermath of the protest, the head of the university’s Office of Student Conduct dismissed the allegations against two protesters because he reportedly believed the process was meant to be educational.

At the time, the director of student conduct was Osvaldo Del Valle, who has not responded to repeated requests for comment. University spokesperson Jonathan Morales confirmed that Del Valle separated from SFSU on June 10, but could not comment as to why.

“While I cannot disclose specific details, be assured that I have also taken personnel actions that hold administrators accountable for their failures related to this incident,” Wong said in the statement.

The director also ignored three complaints against the protesters from Hillel students, according to the report, which have since been investigated and closed.

SFSU and Hillel also had trouble planning the event, including whether the event would be public and how they would prepare for protests.

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