Since the summer, USC has been embroiled in a free speech quagmire over tweets posted by Yasmeen Mashayekh, a 21-year-old, Palestinian civil engineering student whose statements include, “I Want to Kill Every Motherfucking Zionist,” “Zionists are going to fucking pay,” “LONG LIVE THE INTIFADA” and, “I fucking love [H]amas.”
So far, the administration’s response has failed to satisfy anyone, with professors accusing school leaders of being more timid than they would have been if another minority were targeted, while students say they feel threatened, and demand Mashayekh’s expulsion. But Mashayekh and her supporters say they’re the victims here.
On December 1, 60 faculty members sent the latest in a series of letters to USC President Carol Folt, Provost Charles Zukoski, and board of trustees chair Rick Caruso, urging the school publicly rebuke Mashayekh and take action “to distance USC from her hateful statements,” the Los Angeles Times reports.
“The silence of our leadership on this matter is alienating, hurtful, and depressing,” the letter read. “It amounts to tacit acceptance of a toxic atmosphere of hatred and hostility.”
In their December 3 response, Folt and Zukoski said that the issue “has disturbed us deeply as we understand very well the hurtful impact of the statements on Twitter that you quoted, not only to those who are Jewish but also to those of us who know how harmful antisemitism is when left unchecked.”
USC officials say that when they first learned of the tweets this summer, they pulled Mashayekh—who is an undergrad but also takes graduate courses—from her job as a paid mentor for the Viterbi School of Engineering, but she still apparently works as a “diversity, equity and inclusion senator” for the Viterbi Graduate Student Association.
Folt and Zukoski told the faculty that it would be against state law “for the university to remove anyone from a student-elected position based on protected speech.”
They add that the school is working to “deepen our understanding of manifestations of antisemitism on campus.”
USC Chemistry professor Curt Wittig, who signed the faculty letter, counters that in turbulent times, when the world starts looking for scapegoats, such assurances are little comfort.
“Jews were the main target of that scapegoating in the first half of the 20th century,” Wittig tells the Times, noting a recent spike in antisemitic attacks and other hate crimes.
Calling the administration’s response “a deflection memo,” Wittig says Jewish students he’s spoken to feel threatened, adding, “We expect something a little more forceful.”
Biology professor Judith Hirsch concurs, telling the paper, “If a Jewish student had written the same tweets about Palestinians, we would be equally distressed.”
Previously, the group Stop Antisemitism had also tweeted about Mashayekh, causing the organization Palestine Legal to claim in July that, “USC responded to the smear campaign by quietly removing Mashayekh from a post celebrating women leaders at the engineering school. After Palestine Legal intervened, Mashayekh was added back to the post.”
Palestine Legal has not responded to a request from Jewish Journal to explain what post they were referring to, but students and members of the community at large have responded by demanding Mashayekh be expelled.
For its part, USC Viterbi School responded in a series of tweets, “The individual is a member of a graduate student group that is self-organized, elects its own council members, and does not set the university’s policies… Even though the statements at issue are legally protected, we understand they are disturbing. USC rejects and condemns hatred in all its forms.”
Mashayekh now tells the Times that, as a result of her tweets being republished, “I don’t feel safe on campus,” adding that she’s received death threats. Her supporters are circulating a letter of their own, asking USC to issue a statement “that demonstrates support for a student who is currently being disproportionately singled out.”
One of Mashayekh’s republished tweets has been getting extra attention for including the phrase “yel3an el yahood.”
While some say that translates to, “Curse the Jews,” Mashayekh insists it is merely “the term Palestinians use for the population that is occupying their land.”
She further explained, “Zionists will do anything to make Palestinians look anti-Semitic because Zionism clings onto Judaism as a lifeline the same way white supremacist in the KKK cling onto Christianity to gain credibility. Don’t be fooled.”
Mashayekh also contends that “yel3an” does not translate to “curse,” but is simply “a request for God to cast judgment.”
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