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SDSU students protest against anti-Muslim fliers

San Diego State University students upset over fliers posted on campus that identify some students as allies of terrorists confronted President Elliot Hirshman Wednesday, briefly preventing him from leaving in a police car.

Protestors were upset over Hirshman’s delayed response to the fliers, which claim that the seven students named “have allied themselves with Palestinian terrorists to perpetrate” hatred against Jewish students on campus.

photoFliers were posted on campus at San Diego State University a few weeks ago, identifying some students as allies of terrorists against Israel. Students protested Wednesday against President Elliot Hirshman’s response to the fliers. — Osama Alkhawaja

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Fliers were posted on campus at San Diego State University a few weeks ago, identifying some students as allies of ...

Fliers were posted on campus at San Diego State University a few weeks ago, identifying some students as allies of terrorists against Israel. Students protested Wednesday against President Elliot Hirshman’s response to the fliers. / Osama Alkhawaja

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The president, alongside another university administrator, recently responded to the fliers in an email to students, saying that naming students who are against a certain viewpoint could discourage them from taking part in political discussions, while emphasizing that the university supports free speech.

“It’s always difficult balancing free speech with things that make people uncomfortable, and we deal with that every day on campus,” university spokesman Greg Block said. “But in the end, free speech wins out, and we support that.”

The students participating in the protest Wednesday felt that Hirshman’s email failed to condemn the fliers and advocate for the safety of the students who were listed. Many sought an apology.

“We wanted the president to come to our defense as students,” said political science student Osama Alkhawaja, 22, whose name appeared on the fliers.

Block said he did not know how much time elapsed between when the fliers were discovered and when Hirshman and Vice President of Student Affairs Eric Rivera issued a statement about them. Students said it took two weeks.

“Any time something happens on campus, people want the president to make a statement,” Block said. “He can’t make a statement for everything that happens.”

The students decided to hold a silent protest at a 4 p.m. ceremony Hirshman was attending to swear in next school year’s student government leaders. They waited until the president was out.

“But once he saw us, he left. He didn’t make eye contact with us,” Alkhawaja said.

Several students followed Hirshman, who got into a campus police car that planned to take him to his own vehicle. Block said it is not unusual for the president to be escorted when there’s a protest on campus.

Jeanette Corona said she knew students were eager to speak to Hirshman. She was among the first students who surrounded the vehicle and prevented it from leaving.

“I stood in front of the car — people were standing on the side — and I told everyone, ‘Join me. Please don’t leave me alone. Stand your ground. Link up. Hold hands,’” she said.

After nearly an hour, Hirshman got out of the vehicle and talked to some students. Members of the administration offered to set up a meeting between several students and the president.

“We said, ‘Listen, there’s no way all these students are gonna leave just because you’re gonna meet with me. The only thing that will get these students to leave is a public admission that you’re sorry for the way that you’ve treated them,’” Alkhawaja said.

The students eventually got what many wanted.

“If we have done things inadvertently that have upset or hurt people, we are sorry for that,” Hirshman told students.

“It definitely feels like a victory. For all the students that put in so many hours trying to get the administration to listen to us, we feel like at least we got something: a public apology,” Alkhawaja said.

Students and Hirshman agreed to meet at a later time to discuss the matter.

The fliers are believed to be created by an organization led by conservative activist David Horowitz of Los Angeles. The website for the David Horowitz Freedom Center appears at the bottom of the fliers.

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