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The State

Student Group Sanctioned for Clash During Protest

Mideast: Campus officials put Palestinian organization on probation and halt funding. A Jewish group is warned after the confrontation.

June 22, 2002|STUART SILVERSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

San Francisco State announced Friday that it placed a Palestinian student organization on probation and cut off its funding for one year because of a campus confrontation last month.

The university also issued a letter of warning to a Jewish student group whose pro-Israel peace rally ended in the clash with pro-Palestinian demonstrators.

Along with those disciplinary steps, the university announced initiatives to promote civil discourse on campus.

They include a three-day retreat for student organization leaders, including heads of the two groups, and presentations for other students and faculty.

"We are using all our resources as a university to make the recent tensions, which echo so painfully the whole Middle East situation, an occasion for learning and growth," university President Robert A. Corrigan said in a news release. "We believe firmly that the skills and habits of open, yet civil, dissent can be modeled and taught. I can think of no more critical work for us to do."

No injuries were reported in the May 7 confrontation, but police were called to escort participants in the pro-Israel rally to safety after they came face to face with counterdemonstrators.

The university said that it disciplined the General Union of Palestine Students because its members interfered with the pro-Israel rally.

After reviewing videotapes and interviewing witnesses about the incident, campus authorities concluded that the counterdemonstrators had violated campus regulations by hurling racial and ethnic epithets, using bullhorns and drums and refusing to remain in their designated area.

University spokeswoman Ligeia Polidora said school authorities also took down the group's Web site earlier this week because it showed an animated image throwing a rock against the Star of David and because the site carried a link to a separate Web site that made claims of "Jewish ritual murder."

Polidora said the warning letter was issued to the Jewish student group Hillel because members also shouted racial and ethnic epithets and hung flags on the student center without permission and because one member used a bullhorn.

The university said disciplinary proceedings are pending against three students, but would not identify their affiliations.

The San Francisco district attorney's office has been reviewing the events, but no charges have been filed.

Nabeel Silmi, a San Francisco State junior serving as spokesman for the General Union of Palestine Students, called the sanctions against his group unfair.

"Things were said on both sides. However, the whole GUPS [being held] responsible for everybody's comments on May 7 is completely unacceptable. We have sanctions put on us now, but we are going to continue to work with the administration, let them know what our opinion is, and where we stand. On an organizational level, we didn't do anything wrong," Silmi said.

Orli Bein, graduate program coordinator for San Francisco Hillel, said the university "has taken some important steps" to improve the atmosphere on campus.

But she said the warning letter campus officials sent to Hillel was inappropriate because of "the extreme care we've taken to abide by the rules."

Bein called the letter a misguided "effort to criticize both sides to seem impartial."

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