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Open Letter to SFSU President Wong Concerning Student Celebration of the Edward Said Mural
President Wong: We are writing on behalf of the National Lawyers Guild San Francisco Bay Area Chapter (NLGSF), to express our serious concern about your statements regarding the November 7 student celebration of the Edward Said mural, and to urge you to uphold academic freedom by Palestinian students and faculty against outside political pressure. AMCHA’s call for investigation and discipline and false accusation of anti-Semitism against GUPS and AMED is a politically motivated attempt to silence their point of view that echoes similar attacks on Palestinian and Arab students on campuses around the country.
Hate speech on your campus should be a concern of yours. But controversial political speech is not the same as hate speech. Resisting colonialism, whether Israeli or American or British, and supporting such resistance has nothing to do with hate speech. You may disagree with the sentiment, and we do not adopt the language in question, but in the spirit of Edward Said, the context is clearly about resisting occupation, not about anti-Semitism. You made the leap from controversial political statement to bigotry and Anti-Semitism, no doubt, because of how the incident was framed by an organization called the AMCHA Initiative.
The AMCHA Initiative – an organization with which we hope you will distance yourself – has filed numerous complaints aimed at encouraging California Universities to punish student and faculty speech critical of Israel. All have been ignored or dismissed. AMCHA and similar organizations are not calling for the open dialogue and debate on the issues of Israel and Palestine that your statement called for, but rather, they are using the accusation of anti-Semitism as a way to deflect all criticism of Israel. They are attempting to intimidate rather than allow their own ideas to rise or fall in the face of dissenters. You, unfortunately, have greatly amplified this stifling tactic.
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects freedom of speech, regardless of whether the content of the speech is controversial. “The law is ... clear that the government may not prohibit angry or inflammatory speech in a public forum unless it is (1) ‘directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action’ and (2) ‘likely to incite or produce such action.’ Speech that stirs passions, resentment or anger is fully protected by the First Amendment.” (Collins v. Jordan, 110 F.3d 1363, 1371 (9th Cir. 1996), citing Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444, 447 (1969); Terminiello v. Chicago, 337 U.S. 1, 4 (1949).)
The NLGSF is a human rights bar association in existence since 1937 with hundreds of members in the Bay Area. We have active working groups and committees on hate speech, Palestine, and the rights of protesters. We have member caucuses, including The United People of Color Caucus and the Queer Caucus. We urge you to reconsider your statement and condemn the tactics of the AMCHA Initiative.
November 26, 2013