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The Indiana Daily Student

campus student life

Hillel postpones speaker event criticized as Islamophobic due to security concerns

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IU Hillel officially postponed its Tuesday event, “The Truth About Hamas and Israel,” featuring Hamas member-turned-Israel-spy Mosab Hassan Yousef, citing security concerns in a mass email sent Monday night. 

Student groups including the Palestine Solidarity Committee and the Middle Eastern Student Association criticized the event prior to its cancelation, calling Yousef Islamophobic for his remarks about Muslims, which include derogatory generalizations about Islam and its followers. 

As a counterprotest measure, MESA advertised a “car rally” at IU to encourage the university to stop hosting “advocates of Islamophobia.” The flyer listed 30 buses leaving from eight different cities in Indiana to Bloomington. People would then rally outside the Hillel event at Wilkinson Hall. 

On Saturday, Yousef posted he had been informed the event was postponed until the fall semester due to security threats “involving the Muslim community and several white supremacist groups.” IU confirmed the existence of a security issue but did not respond to further questions.  

The postponement follows a string of event cancelations related to the Israel-Hamas war and alleged security concerns.  

In November, the Palestine Solidarity Committee was denied a room reservation after IU took issue with the way the group’s faculty adviser, Abdulkader Sinno, represented the event in a space reservation form. IU told the PSC it denied the reservation because it would not be able to arrange for security on short notice, but the group held the event anyway. IU suspended Sinno as a result a month later. 

IU then canceled Palestinian painter Samia Halaby’s abstract art exhibition Dec. 20, citing security concerns and Halaby’s pro-Palestinian social media posts. Provost Rahul Shrivastav called Halaby’s exhibit a “potential lightning rod” in a campus charged by the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, leading IU to cancel the event despite its three years of planning. 

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Critics cite Islamophobic remarks of speaker 

Yousef, the son of Hamas co-founder Sheikh Hassan Yousef, defected to Israel in 1997 and became an agent for Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, after becoming disillusioned with Hamas. As an agent for Shin Bet, Yousef provided the Israeli government with critical information on Hamas that he claimed thwarted several planned attacks. 

Yousef’s father and Hamas both denied he had access to sensitive information.  

“Mosab was never an active member of Hamas in any capacity, either in the political or armed wing," a Hamas statement issued in his father’s name read. 

Yousef, a former Muslim who later converted to Christianity, has made incendiary remarks about Muslims for at least a decade, but has become more outspoken in the months following the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel. 

In a Dec. 14 video posted to X, formerly known as Twitter, Yousef spoke about Arabs and Muslims in a derogatory way. 

“If I have to choose between 1.6 billion Muslims and a cow, I will choose the cow,” he said in the video. 

Criticism of Yousef goes beyond IU’s campus. On March 21, the New York chapter of the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, condemned Yousef, who spoke at Columbia University the same day, as Islamophobic, citing two X posts from December. One warned people not to trust Muslims, with Yousef stating he has “zero respect for any individual who identifies as a Muslim.” In the other post, Yousef said he would place Islam on the “bottom rung” when judged against other religions and said Muslims are on a “crusade” to “convert humanity to a 7th century mentality.” 

The event’s cancelation 

Just days before the event, which had already met capacity, IU asked Hillel to postpone the event due to security concerns.  

“In response to credible security information that raises concerns for the safety of speakers and attendees, IU has regretfully asked Hillel to postpone Tuesday evening’s event at Wilkinson Hall,” IU Executive Director of Media Relations Mark Bode said in an email to the IDS. “As outlined in the university’s free speech policy, IU expects civility and respect between members of our campus community, as well as those visiting. IU, as a public research university, must serve as a home for the free exchange of ideas while simultaneously ensuring the safety of all members of our campus community.” 

Bode did not respond to questions about the content of the threats, who made them or if the threats were directed at specific groups or individuals.  

Yousef had harsher words for the decision, blaming the Muslim community for the postponement in a post on X.  

“This is how the Muslim minority in America exploits freedoms to intimidate and silence their political opponents,” he said. “What will happen if they become a majority?” 

Yousef also posted a statement he claims IU sent to his agent, which details security issues picked up by the FBI.  

“Indiana University is postponing the event on 3/26 due to serious and credible security issues involving the Muslim community and several White supremacist groups according to the Chicago/Midwest offices of the FBI. The Muslim community chatter picked up by security is that they are planning on bringing as many as 1000 or more protesters to the event from a three-state area. The University is committed to rescheduling but will not be able to do so until the Fall semester,” the statement read. 

FBI Chicago declined to comment in response to an IDS inquiry.  

“The standard policy of the Department of Justice prevents the FBI from commenting on the existence or nonexistence of any investigation that may be occurring,” FBI Chicago wrote. “I encourage you to reach out to the FBI Indianapolis Field Office or Indiana University with further inquiries.” 

FBI Indianapolis also declined to comment.  

RelatedGov. Eric Holcomb vetoes bill defining antisemitism Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb issued his only veto of this legislative session Monday, disagreeing with changes made to priority proposal House Bill 1002, which attempted to define antisemitism.

IU diversity, equity and inclusion office not a sponsor 

A key element of the event’s criticism came from a false perception that the IU Office of the Vice Provost for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion sponsored the event because the logo for the office was on Hillel’s original event flyer posted to Instagram. However, the office was never a sponsor for the event, which Bode confirmed in an email.  

Hillel deleted the original post and reposted the event flyer without the OVPDEI logo. IU would not comment on if Hillel had taken the post down in response to a request from the office. 

However, Hillel’s Monday night email implied sponsorship from the office once more, claiming the event had been “supported” by the “IU Department of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.” 

Hillel president Leah Sterbcow did not respond to a request for comment. The IDS left contact information at Hillel’s office and did not receive a response.  

Hillel’s email also rejected criticism of Yousef’s controversial remarks.  

“Despite accusations, Mosab Hassan Yousef is far from an ‘Islamophobe,’” the email read. 

In an interview with the IDS, Aidan Khamis, president of the PSC, questioned why there were seemingly no consequences for Hillel’s post giving the impression OVPDEI was a sponsor while Sinno was suspended for something similar — implying on a form that he was reserving a room for an academic event rather than a student-organized event, according to IU. 

Khamis said the counterprotest was designed to stand against Islamophobia and a perceived double standard in how IU treats different groups. He said the goal wasn’t to infringe on free speech and expressed disappointment regarding IU’s silence on Yousef’s statements. 

“He’s a vehement and outward Islamophobe,” Khamis said.  

MESA wrote in an Instagram post that a protest to stand against Islamophobia will still be held at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Dunn Meadow. 

Read the full text of Hillel's email here:

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