SFSU President Apologies for Failing Jewish Students

Civil rights suit alleges school fosters an environment of 'institutionalized anti-Semitism'

San Francisco State University
San Francisco State University / Wikimedia Commons
February 27, 2018

The president of San Francisco State University issued a public apology last week for failing Jewish students, in the face of a civil rights lawsuit alleging the school has long fostered an environment of "institutionalized anti-Semitism."

SFSU President Leslie Wong published his statement after meeting with members of the Jewish campus community to discuss numerous incidents of anti-Semitism that have occurred over the last two years, including Wong's personal praise of students who threatened violence against Jewish and Israeli students, and his refusal to state in an interview last year that Zionists are welcome on campus.

In last week's letter, Wong walked back some of his rhetoric, and intimated he was open to further discussion about the climate at a school that is currently facing its second anti-Semitism lawsuit in as many years.

The most recent suit, filed earlier this month, notes a February 2017 incident in which the Hillel Jewish campus center was "intentionally and surreptitiously" barred from participating in a Know Your Rights fair that should have been open to all campus organizations.

An SFSU investigation found that Hillel had been wrongfully banned from the event.

That conflict came on the heels of an April 2016 campus appearance by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat that was bombarded by student protesters. Attendees reported feeling threatened and unsafe, and a group of students leveraged the event to file an anti-Semitism suit against SFSU in June 2017.

Wong's response to that incident, including his attempt to reschedule Barkat for an appearance the following year, was derided as insincere by campus actors and Barkat himself.

For 13 of the 15 Jewish student leaders present at last week's meeting, Wong's apology is nowhere near enough to rectify SFSU's deep-rooted issues.

The students have written in a letter addressed to Wong that they left the session "disappointed and frustrated about the lack of concrete action steps, and concerned about the way you plan to share your recent realizations with campus."

Though the president "initiated" the meeting and had months, if not years, to formulate a strategy for tackling anti-Semitism on a campus, the students wrote that Wong "was unprepared" and did not seem to have "any plan for how to take accountability or steps to mitigate the undisputed discrimination we students have experienced."

The Jewish community on and off campus has been pushing for years to see serious changes at SFSU, causing the California State University chancellor's office to step in last summer and appoint a liaison to the campus for Jewish students.

That liaison attended two meetings last fall of Wong's short-lived Task Force on Campus Climate, which was disbanded after multiple members—including at least one individual who was in this month's meeting—resigned in frustration with the task force's direction.