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Saeed Assed (left), Melanie Yazzie (center) and Samia Assed participate at a Student Justice in Palestine organized demonstration in front of the UNM BookStore Oct. 14, 2015. A recent letter was sent to President Bob Frank in regards to cutting funding from the Muslim Student Association and Student Justice in Palestine student groups.

Saeed Assed (left), Melanie Yazzie (center) and Samia Assed participate at a Student Justice in Palestine organized demonstration in front of the UNM BookStore Oct. 14, 2015. A recent letter was sent to President Bob Frank in regards to cutting funding from the Muslim Student Association and Student Justice in Palestine student groups.

Student groups reject claim UNM is 'terrorist-friendly'

At the end of October the David Horowitz Freedom Center named UNM one of the top 10 most terrorist-friendly universities in the country, due in part to students groups like the Muslim Student Association and Students for Justice in Palestine.

Now, the center is asking University President Bob Frank to take action.

In an e-mail sent to Frank on Friday evening, Horowitz states that MSA and SJP are in violation of codes of conduct, and calls on Frank to “withdraw your active support for this organization (SJP) and the terrorist agendas it promotes.” The organization also sent the letter to the Daily Lobo.

Like the center’s published article, Horowitz states that the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement, which SJP supports, is intended to destroy the Jewish state.

Izzy Mustafa, co-founder and co-chair of SJP’s UNM chapter, says otherwise. He said SJP isn’t affiliated with any political organization, including Hamas.

“Our main mission is to educate the wider UNM campus and Albuquerque community about what we see as an illegal military occupation of Palestinian (land), and also human rights violations that happen against Palestinian people,” Mustafa said.

Mustafa said the Horowitz center has a very right-wing agenda that is meant to target Arab and Muslim students.

“To me what’s concerning is that they’re being taken seriously and they’re being lent credibility to spew all this anti-Arab and anti-Muslim rhetoric, not just at UNM, but across the nation,” he said.

He called it irresponsible for the center to provoke fear in an arena where so much of it exists already, especially toward Arabs and Muslims, because it is unwarranted.

Sara Koplik, director of Hillel at UNM—the primary Jewish student center on campus—also said she thinks the center is acting irresponsibly.

“We do not need to be fear-mongering, we do not need to be showing hatred for other people,” Koplik said. “We disagree with that method.”

Koplik said she thinks the center has conflated certain issues, including the ones it discussed in its article. The article discussed an anti-Israeli sentiment, then jumped to anti-Semitism, when in actuality the two are different, she said.

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However, she said she does believe there is an “enormous” amount of anti-Israel sentiment at UNM. She said that SJP has a part to play in that, because they frequently invite anti-Israel speakers to campus, including one who will be at UNM on December 2.

“It’s disappointing,” Koplik said.

Nonetheless, Koplik said she does not agree that the University should sever connections with UNM’s SJP chapter, although she said she wished they would be more responsible.

“It’s a student group. I wish they would be more responsible, but no,” she said. “If SJP is willing to do programs with us, if we can ... do programs that show both sides, talk about bringing peace ... that’s what we want.”

The letter specifically accuses SJP of spreading Hamas rhetoric through its hosting of Israeli Apartheid Week. Mustafa, however, said it is simply an awareness event to reach out to students who don’t know about the situation in Palestine. He said the last time the event was hosted on campus was in 2013, due to the organization being in a transitional phase since that time.

Further, the center states in the letter that the BDS movement—which Mustafa said was created by over 150 civil society groups in Palestine—is actually a Hamas product. Mustafa denies that claim as well.

“It was called for by the Palestinian people to call on the international community to help put pressure on Israel to stop the illegal occupation of their land and their people,” he said.

Mustafa said the movement is strictly non-violent, modeled after the South African anti-apartheid effort of the 1980s and ‘90s.

SJP sponsored an Associated Students of UNM resolution in the spring that called on the University to divest from companies that profit off the occupation, such as Hewlett-Packard and Caterpillar. It failed after a lengthy debate.

Horowitz’s letter goes on to state that the University continuing its support—through “campus funds and campus privileges”—of both the MSA and SJP “threatens the security not only of Jewish students on your campus, but, because the terrorists’ goal is to destroy free societies like the United States, the security of all Americans.”

MSA Sisters Event Coordinator Serene Akkad called it insane for the center to make such accusations against a student organization that is working to reconstruct the image of Islam after the media’s hostile portrayals of it.

“We’re trying so hard to give a good name to what ... Islam truly does preach to us,” Akkad said. “(It’s tough) when we have people like these who are giving accusations and they don’t have proof behind it.”

Akkad said she hopes Frank does come out in support of MSA, and knows that the group is in no way connected to terrorism.

“We hate the fact that ISIS and all these people are using our name,” she said. “We’re the ones that have to suffer the consequences and the backlash of all these events that have happened, and it’s very hard.”

According to a statement from a UNM spokeswoman, the president and other members of UNM administration will examine the letter’s allegations this week, but that universities are a place where free expression can thrive safely.

“This right is supported by UNM’s policy on Freedom of Expression,” the spokeswoman states. “To claim that any institution is friendly to terrorists, based on mischaracterizations of legitimate activities that are rooted in the U.S. Constitution, is misguided.”

Though Horowitz implies a conflict between Jews and organizations like the MSA and SJP, and calls for withdrawal of connections with the latter, Koplik said she would rather take things a different route – one of tolerance.

“We would love to do events with MSA, with SJP if they’re willing interact with us,” she said. “So far they haven’t been willing to, but we’d like to change the dialogue on campus ... from confrontational to understanding. We extend a hand of friendship to both MSA and SJP.”

David Lynch is the news editor at the Daily Lobo. Contact him at news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @RealDavidLynch.

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