Angel Cabrera, President, George Mason University
George Mason University is the largest public research university in the state of Virginia, but unlike most of the other campuses included in this report, it is not widely known for its extremist politics. That changed in the fall of 2016 when GMU agreed to host the 3-day National Students for Justice in Palestine conference on campus, an event known for extremist speakers who condone terrorism against Israel and for its vehement anti-Semitism and secrecy.
In recognition of SJP’s role in promoting Jew hatred and terrorism, several members of the Virginia General Assembly along with numerous other individuals and non-profit organizations signed a letter urging GMU to cancel the event, calling SJP “A group that incites hate, fuels violent behavior and places citizens’ lives at great risk.” GMU President Angel Cabrera and his administration did not heed their call, but proceeded with the event.
Delegate Dave LaRock (R-33) of the Virginia General Assembly was one of the signatories of that letter. “SJP is an organization that incites violence and should not be allowed to use publicly funded facilities,” LaRock said, explaining his decision to sign the letter. “I am a staunch supporter of the right to free speech, which is protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. However, free speech is rightly limited to exclude incitement of violence. Exchange of viewpoints on controversial issues is important, and I have no problem with public discourse on any issue. The problem this letter addresses is when individuals or organizations choose to incite violence rather than engage in civil debate.”
LaRock further noted that although he had spent more than two months corresponding with GMU President Cabrera and his government relations team, he did not receive an official response to his concerns from the GMU administration, proving in his mind that GMU’s administrators “demonstrate an unwillingness to differentiate between appropriate free speech and incitement of violence, even though the latter clearly violates their Code of Student Conduct and possibly Virginia law.”
Cabrera’s failure to respond to legislators’ legitimate concerns about the 3-day national SJP conference on campus provides a stark contrast with the administration’s behavior when anti-terror activists dared to hang posters on campus criticizing SJP.
Oleg Atbashian, an artist and former Soviet dissident who was working in conjunction with the David Horowitz Freedom Center, was arrested and charged with felony “destruction of property worth at least $1,300” charges for hanging posters critical of SJP and the BDS movement against Israel in public places on GMU’s campus. A friend who was assisting Atbashian in hanging the posters was also arrested and charged.
The anti-SJP posters distributed by Atbashian were a direct response to the National SJP conference, which is an opportunity for SJP to school its members and affiliates in the latest tactics for disseminating anti-Israel propaganda, disrupting pro-Israel events, and promulgating Jew hatred on campus. Since attempts to persuade the administration to cancel the event had failed, Atbashian and the Freedom Center responded in the only way still available to them—by exercising their First Amendment rights to provide a differing point of view by hanging posters critical of SJP and the BDS movement on campus. But while the administration turned a blind eye to SJP’s links to terrorism and habit of inciting violence against Jews, they acted immediately to thwart Atbashian’s dissenting views.
The two activists were held in a cramped prison cell in the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center for 14 hours, and were threatened with a five-year jail term for the exercise of their First Amendment rights. Bail was set at $8,000 for each defendant, for a total of $16,000.
The arrest of Atbashian and his fellow activist constitutes false imprisonment on non-existent grounds. No property was damaged by their activism, and certainly not $1,300 worth; the posters they distributed were affixed to university property with a simple paste that can be removed with water.
George Mason’s extreme overreach in this incident and vindictive pursuit of bogus charges—and its failure to respond to increasingly extreme and disturbing rhetoric from new campus anti-Israel group Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA)— reveals President Cabrera’s hostility toward permitting free speech on campus—particularly speech that challenges the entrenched special interests of groups like SAIA. It also puts on display the GMU administration’s hypocrisy in allowing a three-day conference by a group with known ties to terrorists to proceed on campus while immediately tearing down posters critical of that conference and organization—and then arresting the activists who dared hang those posters on trumped-up charges. In setting the tone for the entire GMU administration, George Mason’s president, Dr. Ángel Cabrera, deserves to be named to the list of college presidents who support terror.
George Mason is home to an SJP-surrogate group calling itself “Students Against Israeli Apartheid.” In a May 2016 speech, one of the group’s founding members, Tareq Radi, described how SAIA was established on campus because the previously established SJP chapter was not radical enough in its beliefs and practices: “While an SJP chapter already existed on our campus, they were ardently anti-BDS, and thought protests to be too radical.”
Radi also described how he and other members of SAIA were facilitated by the administration in being able to hold a protest walkout of their own graduation—the reason being that Israeli businesswoman Shari Arison was the commencement speaker and would be receiving an honorary degree—but still return to receive their degrees as part of the ceremony. He attributed this to the university’s fear at standing up to the protestors.
…we were able to do the walkout on graduation. The university actually facilitated it. And so I walked out of the commencement speech with 30 friends and 100 or more so in the crowd, and then we walked back in and received our diplomas. So it wasn’t that we were punished, which was really nice. Again, that wasn’t the university being nice. That was them being more afraid of what we would do if that didn’t happen. So I think there’s something to be said about having rad[ical] politics on campus and not making appeals to authority and constantly trying to appease the administration in negotiations.
In June 2018, George Mason SAIA shared a post from the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, part of the Hamas-inspired and funded BDS campaign against the Jewish state, celebrating the refusal of various artists and sports teams to perform in Israel.
In April 2018, SAIA at George Mason shared a post with various “statistics” on the “distribution of martyrs and casualties by area” from what it termed “The Peaceful Great Return March.” In reality, those participating in the “Great Return March” are primarily Hamas militants who are openly attacking Israel’s border and whom Hamas compensates monetarily for their martyrdom or injury. SAIA’s sharing of this post and use of terms such as “martyrs” demonstrates the group’s allegiance to Hamas.
In February 2018, SAIA shared a notice about an upcoming “National Rally to Support Palestine and Protest AIPAC” which was dedicated to ensuring the “Right of Return,” a call for the cessation of Israel as a Jewish state, one of the key goals of Hamas as stated in its charter. SAIA stated “We better see you there!”
In November 2017, SAIA held an event titled “A Century After Balfour: 100 Years of a False Premise.” The Balfour Declaration was a statement issued by the British government during World War I which supported the establishment of a "national home for the Jewish people" in Palestine. Attacking the Balfour declaration means attacking the establishment of Israel as a Jewish homeland.
During November 4-6, 2016, George Mason University hosted the 3-day National Students for Justice in Palestine conference on campus, an event dedicated to extreme pro-terrorist and anti-Semitic propaganda and to refining tactics to shut down pro-Israel speech on campus. Events held during the conference called for the “right of return” of all Palestinians, a genocidal call to eliminate Israel as a Jewish state, and also delegitimized Israel by falsely accusing it of “apartheid” practices. In addition, the conference program promoted the Hamas-inspired and funded BDS movement against Israel.
A media report described how one SJP conference-goer referred to students protesting the conference as “Zionist terrorists” and others stated “Zionists are so ugly.” An SJP member also tweeted a threat that she would “f—k up a Zionist.”
When Oleg Atbashian, an artist and former Soviet dissident, attempted to hang posters critical of SJP and the BDS movement against Israel in public places on GMU’s campus to disrupt the narrative created by the SJP conference, he was arrested and charged with felony “destruction of property worth at least $1,300” charges for exercising his free speech rights. A friend who assisted Atbashian in hanging the posters was also arrested and charged.