Council on American–Islamic Relations condemns El Camino’s response to commencement controversy


A sign for El Camino College located near the corner of Crenshaw Boulevard and Redondo Beach Boulevard on March 8. El Camino gained national and international media coverage following controversial remarks made during the 2023 graduation ceremony that took place June 9. (Delfino Camacho | The Union)

The Council on American–Islamic Relations’ Los Angeles office released a statement Friday, June 16 condemning El Camino College’s official response to the controversy surrounding a graduation speech by the outgoing student government president.

Council on American–Islamic Relations (CAIR) LA-based Director Hussam Ayloush released a public statement in support of former El Camino student Jana Abulaban, who received international attention after making remarks during the 2023 El Camino Commencement ceremony that some critics called “antisemitic.”

Supporters claim Abulaban’s words were fair criticism and free speech.

“The administration’s attempt to conflate Jana Abulaban’s legitimate criticism of Israeli human rights violations with antisemitism is both dishonest and misleading,” the statement read. “It is immoral for an institution of higher learning to misrepresent her position and join the bandwagon of unfair attacks against her.”

The statement from CAIR also claimed Abulaban had been removed from an El Camino hiring committee and an upcoming board of trustees meeting in what the report said were ​​“retaliatory measures.”

According to Kerri Webb, El Camino’s director of public information and government relations, Abulaban was not removed from presenting in the upcoming June 21 board meeting.

Webb said Abulaban and current Associated Students Organization President, Jose Merino, will still present but their presentation has been moved to the July 17 board meeting. Webb said El Camino does not have a statement as of yet regarding the claims of removal from a hiring committee.

CAIR Director Ayloush spoke to The Union on June 17 and said while Abulaban is still presenting at a later date she was postponed “unnecessarily” and said it’s “almost like penalizing her.”

Ayloush said the organization had requested the student be allowed to present during the original June 21 date and said that if El Camino’s claim of concerns for her safety truly is the reason for the postponement, it is the college’s responsibility to protect her.

“I understand it is not popular to criticize Israel and its human rights records, but it doesn’t make it wrong to do so,” Ayloush said.  “A self-respecting administration would actually celebrate the fact that the college is producing principled and brave students who are willing to tackle unpopular but principled issues.” 

Ayloush insists that Abulabans words were not offensive saying her claims are backed up by multiple human rights organizations adding that while what she said might be “unpopular’ what is truly offensive is the reaction Abulban has received.

In a column sent to and published by The Union, Abulaban critiqued El Camino’s response calling the statement “dangerous” because it implies the student used oppressive language. 

Abulaban defended her remarks in the letter and said she was using her “platform to speak out against oppression.”

On June 14, El Camino College President Brenda Thames sent out an official letter saying Abulaban’s comments were “not authorized.”

“To be clear, her statement was not approved by El Camino College officials and does not reflect the values and views of El Camino College,” the statement read. “Anti-Israel sentiments can lead to a rise in antisemitism.”

The president’s statement went on to say the remarks did not allow for positive dialogue and claimed the college had spoken with Abulaban regarding the “inappropriateness” of her speech.

Thames’ statement also acknowledged the “hateful” comments lobbied against Abulaban and her culture due to the incident.

“Reactions to this incident have led to some hateful statements against the speaker, Palestinians and Muslims,” the statement read. “This is also unacceptable and contravenes our values and mission.”

Following CAIR’s June 16 statement, Webb told The Union there is “no official statement from the president of the college as of yet.”

Webb did reiterate and was “adamant” Abulaban’s remarks which sparked the controversy were never approved.

“Her comments weren’t in any of the scripts,” Webb said.

Editor’s Note:

  • Council on American–Islamic Relations LA-based Director Hussam Ayloush responded to The Union following the initial publication of this story. The story has been updated to include Ayloush’s comments on June 17, 2023, at 6:25 p.m.
  • Updated quote for clarity on June 17, 2023, at 8:32 p.m.