- Associated Press - Friday, March 18, 2016

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - A speech by a writer and transgender advocate was canceled at Brown University after being swept up in a controversy over the event’s co-sponsorship by the university’s Jewish student center.

An online petition demanded Brown RISD Hillel be removed as co-sponsor of the event and accused the group of defending what it called the “Israeli state’s policies of occupation and racial apartheid.”

The student group that organized the talk, Brown Moral Voices, said in a statement that representatives for Janet Mock indicated on Wednesday she was canceling her Monday talk because it was received with controversy rather than open dialogue. The cancellation drew criticism from some students, who said the change.org petition was anti-Semitic.

Mock did not immediately return messages seeking comment. She wrote the book “Redefining Realness” and hosts MSNBC’s online series So POPular!

Brown Moral Voices is run through Brown RISD Hillel, the Jewish student group for Brown and the nearby Rhode Island School of Design. The speech was co-sponsored by other groups and centers on both campuses, including the LGBTQ Center and Brown’s Swearer Center for Public Service. The director of Brown RISD Hillel did not immediately return an email seeking comment.

The change.org petition was started two weeks ago by a group that calls itself only “Brown Students” and did not identify its members. It said they were concerned about Hillel’s sponsorship of the event because Mock is a prominent advocate for transgender people and people of color, and they believe Mock’s invitation is part of a strategy to improve Israel’s image. It said it did not want students to boycott the event.

Around 160 people had signed the petition as of Friday afternoon.

The statement from Brown Moral Voices called the petition factually inaccurate, and said it was a sad day for the university community and lesbian, gay and transgender activism on campus.

“There are no victors,” the statement said.

It’s the latest problem with a speaker at the Ivy league university, where former New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly was shouted down by protesters and abandoned a speech without giving it in 2013.

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