Jewish groups denounce Arizona State University president Mohammed El-Kurd as a known anti-Semite

In November, someone plastered flyers all over the campus of Arizona State University in Tempe saying, “Who’s in control of the world? The Jews do.

But this week, Jewish students at ASU are feeling out of control and helpless as the campus prepares to host a speaker who calls Jews “neo-Nazis”. Student tuition pays for the event, which will put nearly $10,000 in the speaker’s pocket.

Controversy over the symposium has erupted, with Jewish and Muslim students debating where to draw the line between free speech and hate speech. The event puts ASU in the middle, as it strives to promote robust debate but faces allegations of hypocrisy.

Anti-Semitic propaganda is nothing new to ASU.

Similar campaigns ran twice in 2020, with posters reading “Hitler was right,” “unity of our blood,” and other anti-Semitic slogans displayed throughout campus by the Goyim Defense League, a network of internet trolls and theorists of the plot.

At the time, ASU President Michael Crow said in an official statement, “Arizona State University has a long history of opposing anti-Semitic rhetoric and bullying. , whether they occur on our campuses or in the community. We reject and will not accept anti-Semitism or hateful rhetoric of any kind.

This week, Jewish groups on and off campus are calling on ASU not to break that promise as the university prepares to host a speaker who has Jewish students and faculty members saying they are scared.

Two Palestinian cultural clubs at the university jointly invited Mohammed El-Kurd, a Palestinian activist and poet described by Jews and non-Jews alike as a “known anti-Semite,” to speak to students this Sunday.

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Mohammad El Kurd

Harvard University

ASU’s undergraduate student government last week approved nearly $10,000 to pay for El-Kurd’s speaker fees. The amount comes from a $25 per semester programming fee paid by all students.

“Tuition fees should never be used to fund hate speech,” said Liora Rez, founder of New York-based watchdog group StopAntisemitism.

Jewish students like Elizabeth Gofman, a third-year dietetics student and member of ASU’s Israel on Campus coalition, help pay El-Kurd without a say.

“Knowing that my dollars are funding someone coming to tell my people why we shouldn’t exist is heartbreaking,” Gofman said.

El-Kurd’s activism has long been tinged with anti-Semitism, racism, homophobia and slur.

Last May, he responded to a tweet about teaching the Holocaust of Jewish author Ben Freeman, who is also gay, saying, “SHUT UP THE FARM MY GOD YOU ARE SO LOST.

El-Kurd too tweeted in June that Jewish Israelites are “terrorists” and “genocidaires”.

He has even compared Israeli Jews to Nazisa harmful analogy that devalues ​​the lives of the 6 million Jews exterminated during the Holocaust.

During the 11-day conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip in May, El-Kurd claimed that the Zionists had an “unquenchable thirst for Palestinian blood”.

To add a dash of racism to anti-Semitism, in March he tweeted: “’Ancestral Homeland?’ So explain why you can’t walk around Jerusalem without getting sunburned? »

When King David conquered Jerusalem in 1000 BC. BC, he established it as the capital of the Jewish kingdom.

“I’m disappointed in college as a Jewish student,” Gofman said. “It’s hard to know that someone comes to my campus, my home away from home, telling me that I deserve to die because of where my ancestors came from. It’s very, very scary.

In his first collection of poetry RifkaEl-Kurd peddled the dangerous and totally fabricated myth that Israeli soldiers “harvest the organs of martyrs [Palestinians to] feed their warriors with ours.

“It’s hard to know that someone comes to my campus, my home away from home, telling me that I deserve to die because of where my ancestors came from.” -Elizabeth Gofman

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These memoirs also contain beautiful words that have touched the hearts of Palestinian Americans at ASU and beyond.

This is the case of Nora Abooji, a fourth-year political science and Arabic student. She has a leading role in Students for Justice in Palestine, one of two student organizations that invited El-Kurd to speak.

Rifka is incredibly important to me because he is able to express himself and tell his life story, the story of oppression, in a book of poetry,” she said. “He channeled his pain into written form.”

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is extremely personal for El-Kurd.

Israeli forces evicted him from his home in East Jerusalem’s volatile Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, prompting him to move to the United States.

“I am a Palestinian-American,” Abooji said. “I have the privilege of not living under the violence of the Israelis.”

Yet El-Kurd employs a “wholesale demonization” of Jewish people, according to the New York-based Anti-Defamation League, “particularly using language historically used against Jewish communities.”

Rez’s group, StopAntisemitism, sent a letter to Crow on Wednesday asking the university to intervene. In the letter, she expressed concern that El-Kurd is being “financially incentivized to speak on college campuses across the country while spouting his anti-Jewish hatred.”

ASU took no action.

“As a public university, ASU adheres to the First Amendment and strives to ensure the highest degree of intellectual freedom and freedom of expression,” said university spokesman Jerry Gonzalez. . Phoenix New Times. “All individuals and groups on campus have the right to express their opinions, whatever they may be, as long as they do not violate the Student Code of Conduct, student organization policies, and do not violate the individual rights of another student.”

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Gonzalez assured that university personnel, including ASU police, would be present to “support and promote a safe environment where the free exchange of ideas can take place,” but declined to elaborate. .

But members of Jewish groups on campus said they find the university’s tolerance of such ideas inappropriate and believe the symposium goes against that code of conduct.

“We strongly condemn the use of undergraduate student government funding to host a blatantly anti-Semitic lecturer,” said a statement from a consortium of Jewish and pro-Israel groups on campus, including Hillel Jewish Student Center and Chabad. at ASU.

But for Abooji, the Muslim student, this opposition is silencing Palestinian voices on campus.

“The excruciating pressure put on this speaker has never been applied to any other group of students,” she said.

El-Kurd’s distaste for Israel and contempt for Jewish views border on chauvinism and activism, Muslim students believe.

“There is a difference between being loud and obnoxious and being anti-Semitic or bigoted,” Abooji said. “I would never minimize the words he spoke that hurt members of the ASU community, but he remains an important figure for Palestine, although I disagree with everything he said. .”

Jewish students do not try to refute the free speech argument.

However, they feel speechless and smell of hypocrisy.

“Freedom of speech is a beautiful thing, but the Jewish community has not been brought into the conversation about whether or not this constitutes hate speech,” Gofman said. “It’s very frustrating as a Jewish student, especially when we have leaders telling us that ASU will never stand up for anti-Semitism.”