This was published on August 31 on Palestine Legal’s blog
Liz Jackson, email@example.com, Palestine Legal
Daniel Carnie, student participant and witness
Today Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) filed an appeal against a University of California Irvine (UCI) decision to punish them for spontaneously clapping and chanting at a May 10 speaking event with Israeli soldiers. The chanting broke out after one of the soldiers’ entourage physically assaulted a student.
UCI found SJP responsible for “disruption” and sanctioned the group with two years of probation, 12 mandatory meetings to discuss free speech, and a requirement to meet with administrators two weeks before hosting any event.
The August 22 decision to sanction SJP comes after mounting political pressure from Israel lobby groups to punish students who advocate for Palestinian rights.
UCI investigators found that SJP violated campus policy because SJP members and other students chanted for four minutes towards the end of a Question and Answer portion of a speaking event featuring a group of Israeli soldiers. The soldiers, who call themselves “Reservists On Duty,” had engaged in three full days of harassment targeting Palestinian students and their allies prior to the speaking event.
Daniel Carnie, a Jewish student from UCI who was targeted by the soldiers, stated:
“It’s outrageous that the university is punishing us, students, instead of protecting us from aggressive foreign military agents on campus. We’re a diverse group of Palestinian, Black, Latinx, and Jewish students who attended the soldiers’ speaking event and asked critical questions. We started chanting in response to a member of the soldiers’ group lunging toward a Palestinian student, waving her hands, screaming and shoving another student before being physically restrained. We were scared, and the administrators did not intervene, so we spontaneously erupted in a chant. We are appealing this unfair decision.”
Although SJP is not “banned” as Israel lobby groups had demanded, any bureaucratic violation during the duration of two years’ probation could result in suspension or dismissal. The requirement that SJP inform and meet with administrators at least two weeks before an event to discuss their plans, prohibits any spontaneous expression in response to current events.
The soldiers came to the UCI campus to disrupt SJP’s display of a mock “apartheid wall,” which was part of a week-long educational event to raise awareness about Israel’s concerted violations of international law and Palestinian human rights. SJP members reported that the soldiers surveilled, provoked and physically assaulted Palestinian students along with their Latinx, Black, Native and Jewish allies. This occurred in full view of UCI administrators, who refused to intervene. SJP filed a discrimination complaint, which is being investigated.
“This decision by UCI is not about the facts or the law – it’s a politically motivated choice to curtail the speech activities of students who stand up for Palestinian rights,”commented Liz Jackson, staff attorney with Palestine Legal. “This kind of institutional censorship is the real threat to free speech on campus, especially when it’s in response to pressure from groups representing a foreign military power and aiming to surveil and suppress student activities.”
“It’s clearly UCI that needs the lesson in free speech, not the students,” Jackson continued.
Israel lobby groups have repeatedly demanded that UCI shut down criticism of Israel, threatening UCI with “massive punishments” and lawsuits. Some have called for the criminal prosecution of students who chanted at the May 2017 event, similar to the prosecution of eleven students who protested the speech of Israeli ambassador Michael Oren in 2010.
In the months since the Israeli soldiers visited UCI, SJP students have been subjected to severe cyberbullying. Students have been targeted with death threats, Twitter harassment, and a website showing sniper targets on their faces that also lists their names, cell phone numbers and personal addresses.
In its report, the university made no condemnation of the soldiers’ actions or the threats to students that ensued.