Jerusalem mayor
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat is shown speaking during a news conference in Jerusalem, Feb. 23, 2015. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

Pro-Palestinian student activists disrupted a speech by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat at San Francisco State University, carrying pro-Palestinian flags, wearing checkered kaffiyehs and raising their fists as they shouted “intifada” — a word used to describe Palestinian uprisings against Israel. They also chanted a popular pro-Palestinian cheer: “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”

Barkat, who spoke Wednesday, carried on his discussion, despite continued interruptions and dozens of students demonstrating outside the venue, Haaretz reported. Police reported to the scene and security guards were called to protect the mayor, who stepped away from the podium and instead spoke among the crowd of interested students before urging the university president and city’s mayor to prevent actions aimed at shutting down free speech in the future.

“Anyone who thinks that calls for violence and wild incitement will silence us or distract us is seriously mistaken,” Barkat said, responding to the disruptions, the Israeli newspaper reported. “We will continue to build, develop and strengthen the state of Israel and a united Jerusalem, and we will continue to voice our positions and we’ll voice them anywhere that invites us, including in places where some attempt to disrupt us.”

A pro-Palestinian movement — which charges Israel with setting up an apartheid-like system — has spread across college campuses in recent years, sparking concern among pro-Israel groups. Some pro-Israel groups consider the anti-Israel movement to be anti-Semitic although many contest that label.

Jerusalem is at the center of a political debate over the decadeslong Palestinian-Israeli conflict. While Israel considers Jerusalem its undivided capital, Palestinians demand that East Jerusalem become the capital of a future Palestinian state. Pro-Palestinian activists and human rights advocates accuse right-wing Israelis of inflaming tensions by establishing settlements in Arab areas of the city. The city has seen a spike in violence in recent months, as Israelis have been targeted by Palestinian knife attacks.

Barkat is a member of Likud, a right-leaning Israeli political party that leads the Knesset. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the party chairman. The Jerusalem mayor is expected to speak next at Columbia University in New York City.

Correction, April 7, 1:13 p.m. EDT: A previous version of this article erroneously identified the school where the Jerusalem mayor’s speech and a counter-protest occurred. The article has been updated to clarify that the events took place Wednesday at San Francisco State University.