USC cancels valedictorian speech; CAIR official calls it 'cowardly'

(NewsNation) — The University of Southern California canceled its valedictorian’s graduation speech, citing safety concerns after she received backlash for posting about aid for Gaza.

Pro-Israel groups accused valedictorian Asna Tabassum of being antisemitic, but Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Greater Los Angeles Area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, disagrees.

He joined “NewsNation Now” Wednesday, calling the university “dishonest” and “cowardly to be hiding behind the pretext or the excuse of security.”

“Conflating criticism of the state of Israel, conflating talking about human rights for all — Palestinians, Israelis, Muslims, Jews, Christians, is not equivalent to antisemitism,” Ayloush said.

According to NPR, Tabassum’s Instagram account links to a slideshow that criticizes Zionism, informs the public of what is happening in Palestine and suggests ways the public can assist in Gaza.

The university maintains that the cancellation isn’t an issue of free speech.

“There is no free-speech entitlement to speak at a commencement,” Andrew Guzman, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, said in an statement. “The issue here is how best to maintain campus security and safety, period.”

Ayloush questioned that reasoning, however, saying the university can’t point to a real threat or safety concern.

“We can’t forever continue to defend the apartheid system and structure,” he said. “If we’re going to ban every speaker who calls for the dismantling of the apartheid system — which has been described as apartheid by every human rights organization in the world, including Israeli ones — then we won’t have any speakers anymore.”

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