A controversial Israeli historian who has painted an unflattering portrait of the Jewish state's founding is speaking Thursday at Fresno State -- and some in the Jewish community aren't happy about it.
It isn't so much that Ilan Pappé is coming to the Valley campus, opponents of his visit say, but that it was organized by the dean of California State University, Fresno's College of Arts and Humanities and is being co-sponsored by the university's Middle East Studies Program.
"It is essentially state-sponsored anti-Semitism," said Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, a Hebrew lecturer at the University of California at Santa Cruz and co-founder of the Amcha Initiative, which speaks out on behalf of Jewish college students.
Because the university's name "is on this event," Rossman-Benjamin said, it is a misuse of taxpayer money.
In addition, she said, it sends the wrong message to the university's Jewish students.
The Amcha Initiative sought to scuttle the visit on those grounds.
Fresno State, however, is standing by the appearance, as are California State University, Northridge -- where Pappé spoke Monday night -- and California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.
"Our universities do not endorse any particular position but emphatically support the rights of people to express and hear all points of view," the presidents of the three universities wrote in an open letter responding to opponents of Pappé's visit.
"Universities are places where debate, discussion and the free exchange of ideas are welcome and encouraged," the letter continues. "As such, it is a university's responsibility to tolerate a wide range of views on issues, even if they are unpopular or minority opinions."
Pappé's Thursday speech -- which is free and open to the public -- is titled "Arab Spring and Palestine- Israel 'Peace Process.' "
The presentation is part of the College of Arts and Humanities' Middle East Lecture Series.
Fresno State spokesman Tom Uribes said comments in favor and against Pappé's have been about equal.
This isn't Pappé's first visit to Fresno State. He spoke at the campus in 2003, and even then was controversial.
Since that time, he has published a book titled "The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine," endorsed an academic boycott of Israel while at the University of Haifa and then left the country for England after receiving death threats.
Pappé has, among other things, written and lectured that the "ethnic cleansing" of Palestinian Arabs was part of Israel's founding.
Stuart Weil, who often speaks out in favor of Israel and is a former member of the Fresno County Republican Central Committee, is furious that Fresno State is sponsoring the Pappé talk.
"It's really appalling what's going on," he said. "I pay taxes and my tax dollars go to these universities and some of the crap they are teaching."
Rossman-Benjamin's group produced a video titled "California State University, Abuse of Public Resources" that was posted on YouTube.
The video claims "administrators and faculty at several California State University campuses are using their university positions and taxpayer-funded university resources to promote anti-Semitic hatred."
Rossman-Benjamin maintains that Pappé's claims have been debunked, but that she wouldn't have a problem with him speaking at Fresno State -- if a student group sponsored the visit.
The video also took aim at Vida Samiian, dean of Fresno State's College of Arts and Humanities, who organized Pappé's visit. It claims she promotes an anti-Israel agenda.
Samiian, the video says, backed a campaign for the academic and cultural boycott of Israel and organized an effort to have the California Public Employees Retirement System divest from the nation.
Samiian did not return phone calls and an email seeking comment.