January 19, 2020

Palestinian SFSU student’s photo condemned as ‘potential threat’

[UPDATE, DEC. 13] On December 11, AMCHA sent another email saying that it uncovered additional posts by GUPS president and SFSU student Mohammad Hammad. The Jewish Journal confirmed that on October 31, the Tumblr account “Red Philistine” posted a message from Hammad's Tumblr account “palestinianliberator” that targeted a specific female Israeli soldier and linked to her Facebook page.

The message read in part, “Anyone who thinks there can be peace with animals like this is absolutely delusional, and the only 'peace' I'm interested in is the head of this [expletive] scum on a plate, as well as the heads of all others like her, and all others who support the IDF.

When contacted on December 12, a member of GUPS who declined to give his name said, “The only controversy is the smear campaign against the organization.” He would not comment further. No comment was immediately available from the office of SFSU president Leslie Wong.

[DEC. 3] After discovering a potentially threatening photo on the social media Web site Tumblr posted by the president of a Palestinian student group at San Francisco State University (SFSU), the Simon Wiesenthal Center warned the university on Dec. 2 about “a potential threat to its Jewish students.”

The picture posted on Aug. 10 by Mohammad Hammad, is a self-portrait of Hammad holding a knife. A caption reads, “I seriously can not get over how much I love this blade. It is the sharpest thing I own and cuts through everything like butter and just holding it makes me want to stab an Israeli soldier.” The photo has since been removed from the Web site.

Hammad is president of the General Union of Palestine Students (GUPS) at SFSU, a group that “increases awareness of the Palestinian struggle for liberation and justice,” according to its “>Facebook page , the 21-year-old was born in Ramallah in the West Bank and is studying international relations at SFSU. The Journal was not able to reach him for comment.

On Dec. 3, Ellen Griffin, SFSU’s associate vice president of communications, wrote in an email to the Journal that the university had investigated the incident and confirmed that Hammad was the person in the photograph.

According to a statement by Lee Wong, president of SFSU, the university’s police “conducted a threat assessment” and determined that SFSU’s students are safe.

“We will continue to explore all aspects of the incident and take additional actions that may be warranted,” Wong’s statement read.

This is the second controversy involving GUPS and AMCHA in recent weeks. On Nov. 7, during a campus event honoring the sixth anniversary of the installation of a mural of Edward Said—a Palestinian-American scholar — GUPS set up a table in Malcolm X Plaza that displayed two inflammatory stencils.

One of the stencils read, “MY HEROES HAVE ALWAYS KILLED COLONIZERS.” The other showed an outline of Leila Khaled, a Palestinian woman who helped hijack a 1969 commercial flight from Rome to Athens. She was later released as part of a prisoner exchange and is still a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a group designated by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist organization.

“>wrote a letter to Wong expressing concern about the two stencils. The same day, Hammad posted a note on its Facebook page calling on Wong “to condemn this smear campaign, uphold our academic freedom as a core value of SFSU, and to ensure our safety and the safety of all.”

“We are horrified by the baseless attack and allegations of anti-Semitism that have been leveled against GUPS,” Hammad wrote.

On Nov. 19, “>releasing a statement on the university’s Web site saying he was “dismayed by the glorification of violence that this message conveys.”

“There is no place at SF State for celebrating violence or promoting intolerance, bigotry, anti-Semitism or any other form of hate-mongering,” Wong wrote.

Rabab Ibraham Abdulhadi, a SFSU professor and a senior scholar at the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Initiative (AMED)—which co-sponsored the Nov. 7 event with GUPS—disagreed with Wong’s condemnation of the stencil and said he believes such messages qualify as protected free speech, not hate speech.

“It is not directed against Jewish people and thus does not qualify as anti-Semitism, a form of hate speech,” Abdulhadi wrote in an email to the Journal. “Criticizing Israel for its continued occupation of Palestinian lands and denial of Palestinian rights is legitimate and should be defended as part of free speech.”

Since Wong’s statement, AMCHA has called on AMED and SFSU’s College of Ethnic Studies to condemn students and faculty “who use the name and resources of the University to defend, justify, and glorify murder and those who commit it.”

Rabbi Ari Hier, the Wiesenthal Center’s director of campus outreach, praised Wong for condemning the violent message on the stencil at the Nov. 7 event, but said he wants the university to go further.

“Why is the leader of a university-funded group continuing to do this or allowed to stay in that position?” Hier said.

Hier, who served in the Israel Defense Forces, wondered what this might mean for IDF veterans. “The next time I visit San Francisco State, do I have to be worried? Does he want to put the knife in me?”