USC Cancels Speech From Pro-Palestine Valedictorian After She Posted Israel Should Not Exist

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John Oyewale Contributor
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The University of Southern California (USC) decided Monday its valedictorian would no longer speak at the university’s graduation ceremony, citing safety concerns.

There was a growing “intensity of feelings” and “an alarming tenor” of discussions around the university’s choice of Asna Tabassum as valedictorian, USC’s Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Andrew T. Guzman said in a statement.

“After careful consideration, we have decided that our student valedictorian will not deliver a speech at commencement. While this is disappointing, tradition must give way to safety,” Guzman added.

Tabassum was not named in Guzman’s statement but was identified by USC Annenberg Media.

The decision to drop Tabassum stemmed from concerns about the potential of “harassment and even violence” and was “consistent with the fundamental legal obligation – including the expectations of federal regulators – that universities act to protect students and keep our campus community safe,” Guzman said in his statement.

The selection process for a valedictorian that led to Guzman’s ultimate decision in Tabassum’s favor was “based on various criteria – which did not include social media presence,” Guzman said.

Social media presence, however, appeared to be what lit the fuse following Tabassum’s emergence as valedictorian, according to USC Annenberg Media. Tabassum’s Instagram bio reportedly contains a link to a blog about Palestine and Israel. Some students took exception on social media to the information in the blog, the outlet reported.

“palestine is a country located in the levant in western asia. it borders lebanon, syria, jordan, and egypt. currently, it is being occupied by the state of israel, a jewish ethnostate established by zionists in 1948,” ran the blog’s opening salvo.

“one palestinian state would mean palestinian liberation, and the complete abolishment of the state of israel. this way is the only way towards justice,” the blog proposed.

We Are Tov accused Tabassum of “openly promoting antisemitic writings” and of liking Instagram posts from “Trojans for Palestine,” according to the Los Angeles Times. The group is “dedicated to combatting antisemitism” and debunking misinformation,” its website said. (RELATED: ‘You Are Killing Children!’: Pro-Palestinian Protesters Harass GOP Rep, Conservative Influencer At Campus Event)

Tabassum, while acknowledging the honor of being declared valedictorian, blamed “anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian voices” for running “a campaign of racist hatred because of my uncompromising belief in human rights for all,” according to her statement via the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

Self-described as “a proud Trojan,” the student of history with a minor in resistance to genocide added in her statement, “I am not surprised by those who attempt to propagate hatred. I am surprised that my own university—my home for four years—has abandoned me.”

Hussam Ayloush, the Executive Director of CAIR‘s Greater Los Angeles Area office (CAIR-LA), labeled the university’s decision “cowardly” and its called security concerns “disingenuous” in a statement. Tabassum had suffered “dishonest and defamatory attacks” and USC “must stand by her,” he added.

Tabassum’s “remarkable academic achievements” remained undiminished, Guzman said, adding that the university would work out other ways to recognize her and other outstanding students’ academic achievements.

USC respected “free speech rights and academic freedom” and acknowledged that dissent was “an integral aspect of expression in higher education,” according to Guzman’s statement.

Some 19,000-odd graduates will be honored at the commencement ceremony with an estimated audience of 65,000 people, Guzman said. Film producer John Chu will give the commencement address at the May 10 ceremony, USC Annenberg Media reported.