SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - The debate over whether controversial guest speakers should be invited to a summit on reparations at San Diego State University re-erupted Wednesday after several protesters at a rally in favor of the invitations used anti-Semitic tropes that some witnesses called hate speech.
"We're all open to objective research on any given topic," Professor Risa Levitt told 10News. "But when hate speech enters the dialogue at a university that touts itself as being a leader in openness, acceptance, and diversity, then I think you do run into a problem."
In 2019, the university agreed to fund a summit organized by students to explore the issues of reparations and slavery. One name floated as a potential speaker was Ava Muhammad, a spokesperson for the Nation of Islam who has been accused of anti-Semitism. When her name was suggested, a video was circulated showing her refer to Jews as "parasites" who taught Americans how to oppress freed slaves after the Civil War.
When professors spoke out to suggest her invitation would be a mistake, the university said Muhammad would no longer be considered, explaining that the students in charge of the summit had decided she would not be invited.
Wednesday's protest was held by the African People's Socialist Party and did not, according to organizers, include SDSU students as speakers, although one professor did speak. They made the case that no summit about reparations would be complete without another controversial leader accused of anti-Semitic remarks, Omali Yeshitela, chairman of the African People's Socialist Party. Yeshitela has previously been a guest speaker at SDSU.
However, witnesses to the protest were disturbed by some of the language used, especially suggestions that rich Jewish people secretely run the university. One protestor called on students to boycott the summit to "...send a message to SDSU and their Zionist masters that we stand with Minister Ava and Chairman Omali."
"A synagogue was shot 45 minutes from where we are right now," said SDSU student Dylan Meisner, referring to the deadly 2019 shooting at Chabad of Poway. "The argument is we cannot have people coming on campus who are going to say things that directly incite violence against Jewish people."
Meisner says most students support free speech and believe that student groups are free to hear from whomever they want. However, he says this is different because the summit is funded by SDSU.
"I personally was concerned, and I know many other students on campus were concerned, about the use of our tuition dollars being used to pay for a speech of people who have incited hatred against Jewish people in the past," Meisner said.
A spokesperson for San Diego State says any characterization that the university banned, disallowed, or uninvited any speaker on the topic of reparations and slavery is incorrect. She says the details about the summit were only recent submitted by the student organizers and that those plans are currently going through the approval process.