Jewish Community Relations Councilof San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin, Sonoma, Alameda and Contra Costa Counties


Why Can’t We Hear Each Other Out?

April 20, 2016
Posted by: Jason Steckler, JCRC Intern

True knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing.


San Francisco Hillel hosted Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat at San Francisco State University on Wednesday, April 6th. Within minutes a crowd led by the General Union of Palestinian Students (GUPS) took over the room, screaming, “Israel is a terrorist state!” and “From the river to the sea Palestine will be free!” and “Long live the intifada!” until the audience was unable to hear him. I don’t think the GUPS actually anticipated staying in there for as long as they did, but university police stood by without taking action and there was a lack of direction from school authorities to Hillel. No one thought to redirect the protesters outside to a designated area. And as the protest grew larger and louder, those of us who were brave enough to stay to hear the mayor’s point of view ended up huddled in a circle near the center of the room in order to continue listening.

As an SFSU student, I’m ashamed. This was the second event in two weeks that went viral and brought media attention to the absence of civil discourse on our campus (the first being an altercation over a student’s dreadlocks). Recently the campus has not been an inclusive safe space. We are here to learn and to question, to engage in discussion, not to have our voices silenced by whoever can scream the loudest.

SFSU President Leslie Wong issued a statement which said that SFSU needs to be a place “where the entire SF State community can feel welcome and safe to engage in the free exchange of ideas and views,” but a lack of enforcement shows that the President’s words are not being implemented. President Wong has promised a full investigation into the violations of campus policy. We also need to hold University staff accountable.

The SF Hillel community, of which I’m a part, has shifted its strategy toward inclusion, listening, and dialogue. It’s great we have changed our strategy. Now it’s time for campus to rally around this as well. The mayor of Israel's largest, most populated and most religiously diverse city travelled across the world and a small group of protestors was allowed to shout at him unfettered for just as long as they pleased. This shows a huge lack of respect to this foreign dignitary and to the community that invited him. We students need our university to uphold its own code of conduct. 

I’m also worried that the intergroup partnerships on campus are deteriorating. If the current state of affairs is allowed to continue, student organization may begin to be hesitant to partner with other faith-based or ethnic groups. They will fear the political flare-ups and backlash that can come with asking questions about controversial issues. Our campus is becoming a place where dialogue is unconstructive, hurtful, and fails to deepen understanding. It’s risky to have public conversations on topics that can get people defensive. The videos that inevitably emerge give the world a skewed vision that perpetuates the cycle.

Why is it so hard to hear out each other’s viewpoints despite our internal opinions of the individuals or positions taken?

I can only hope current and future students are not deterred in applying to SFSU by the media attention given to this situation. I hope they will walk onto campus open-minded and open to other viewpoints. For my part, I will continue to further the partnerships Jewish students have made with other communities and I will continue learning about other communities’ meaningful issues.


PHOTO: “San Francisco State University sign” by Runner1928, © 2014.