SJP at UCLA has a zero-tolerance policy for sexual assault. We are disgusted with the details of the testimonies regarding UCLA Professor Gabriel Piterberg’s abuse of power and sexual assault of UCLA graduate students. While Professor Piterberg had attended and presented at previous SJP events before we knew of the allegations put forth against him, we are now aware of the testimonies provided by the UCLA graduate students. Henceforth Professor Piterberg is not welcome at any event hosted or co-hosted by SJP at UCLA.
For Immediate Release
February 11, 2016
Students for Justice in Palestine is pleased to announce that at its February 10th meeting, the Graduate Students Association Forum passed two items that go a significant way to resolving the longstanding issues stemming from GSA President Milan Chatterjee’s illegal funding restrictions against pro-Palestinian viewpoints. We believe that the resolution outlined below, combined with other steps taken by the administration, represent an acknowledgement of the harm caused by the funding restriction and a serious effort to undo that harm and prevent it from reoccurring in the future.
In October of 2015, a student group called the Diversity Caucus applied to the GSA Cabinet for event funding. GSA President Milan Chatterjee granted funding to the Diversity Caucus Town Hall, but attached the following restrictions:
“We understand that your organization has zero connection with "Divest from Israel" or any equivalent movement/organization. Hence, we approved your funding. I did want to reiterate that GSA leadership has a zero engagement/endorsement policy towards Divest from Israel or any related organization. I am confident that this won't be the case, but if we are aware that the Diversity Caucus is engaging with any such movement--directly or indirectly--in the organization of this event, we'll have to withdraw or recoup our allocation.”
As the American Civil Liberties Union, Palestine Legal, and the Center for Constitutional Rights have stated, these funding restrictions violated the First Amendment by illegally restricting the right of free speech and free association of graduate students, based on their political viewpoints. Student government cannot use its power to allocate public funds to enforce or silence a particular political viewpoint. In addition to the restrictions being illegal, further revelations indicated that the GSA President had not been authorized by the GSA to implement such a policy, which was never officially approved.
Although the process of resolving this situation has taken several months, on Wednesday, February 10th, the GSA Forum finally remedied this violation in two ways:
First, the GSA passed a constitutional amendment (specific language provided by ASUCLA) officially banning viewpoint discrimination in its allocation of student funds. This follows guidance provided by UCLA Vice Chancellor of Legal Affairs, Amy Blum, which confirmed the inadmissibility of viewpoint restrictions. The amendment states:
“Requests for event funding from GSA must be evaluated on a viewpoint-neutral basis; that is, they must be based upon considerations which do not include approval or disapproval of the viewpoint of the Registered Campus Organization or any of its related programs or activities.”
Second, the GSA passed a resolution acknowledging the specific wrongdoings that occurred with the funding restriction, committing to taking steps to repair the damage, and apologizing to students affected by the viewpoint restriction. The resolution can be read in full here.
After discovering the illegal funding restriction in October, 2015, SJP requested a series of steps to remedy the problem. These included:
1) the passage of an amendment outlawing viewpoint discrimination,
2) efforts to increase training and education for the GSA so as to prevent re-occurrences of this problem in the future,
3) training for staff that oversees the GSA so that they can better advise the GSA on first amendment issues,
4) and a clear statement of respect for open debate about political questions.
We are happy to state that these demands have now been met by administrators, who have stated unequivocally that viewpoint discrimination is impermissible, engaged in first amendment training, and committed to revising policies to be more clear going forward. These demands have also been met by the GSA through its passage of our resolution and its adoption of a constitutional amendment banning viewpoint discrimination. Although we found other parts of the administration's response to be insufficient, the GSA's actions last night, and particularly the comments made by Forum members, serve as a clear rebuke to those who wish to silence the speech rights of students who support Palestinian freedom and equality. With these remedies in place, we look forward to working with the GSA in the future on terms equal to all other student groups.
Finally, we also note that this issue has prompted a number of other steps towards better governance and accountability at the GSA. While previously GSA council minutes were not publicly available, the GSA Forum has now committed to publishing meeting minutes online, providing more accountability and transparency regarding council actions. In addition, using personal testimonies and written communication as evidence, the GSA has also begun an investigation of GSA President Milan Chatterjee for engaging in inappropriate behavior towards students concerned about the funding discrimination issue (among other charges).
Graduate Student Association Passes Resolution Apologizing to SJP and Diversity Caucus and Committing to Viewpoint Neutrality in Funding
Published in the Daily Bruin:
Last week a Bruins for Israel board member published an op-ed centered on vilifying Students for Justice in Palestine. In fact, calling SJP divisive is the main theme in nearly every op-ed opposing our work, from events to protests, to divestment. It is a tired, transparent tactic, but what makes this op-ed stand out was that it contained several lies. The lies claimed that SJP held a mock stabbing and made references to the Holocaust at an event last quarter mourning Palestinian and Israeli civilian lives lost. The Daily Bruin later ran corrections on the two statements.
Fabrications such as these are part of an attempt to create a narrative that discredits SJP while distracting from discussing the realities of Israeli injustices. SJP is not and has never been anti-Jewish or anti-Israeli.
We are, however, opposed to the way that Israel forces Palestinians to live as second-class citizens without sufficient access to resources, education or transportation. We are opposed to the construction of settlements and the Apartheid Wall on Palestinian land, both of which have been internationally recognized as illegal. And yes, consequently, we are also opposed to entities that impose or directly enable these injustices to persist.
A phrase used by pro-Palestinian activists is that “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” which was referenced in last week’s article. Palestine is the name many use to refer to the geographic region that encompasses Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. The call for the entire region to be free is not a call for annihilation, but rather a call for everyone living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, be they Palestinian or Israeli, to live with the same freedoms that currently only the Jewish Israelis are granted.
The reality is that through decades of peace negotiations, Israel has continued to subjugate Palestinians to inhumane policies and construct illegal settlements. Peace will not come through more of the same. That’s why Palestinian civil society has called upon the international community to place economic pressure on the Israeli government with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement to facilitate an end to the military occupation, provision of equal rights for Palestinians and a solution for the Palestinian refugees within the framework of international law.
If you believe something is unethical, one of the most effective ways to discourage that behavior is to make its persistence financially infeasible. This same tactic has been utilized to combat other social injustices such as the apartheid regime in South Africa, the prison-industrial complex and fossil fuel investments.
This is the theory of change that SJP, Jewish Voice for Peace and other Palestine solidarity groups are operating from – that grassroots political pressure can push institutions that support the occupation today to oppose it tomorrow, thereby raising the incentives for the Israeli government to offer Palestinians the same freedoms that Jewish Israelis are granted. So if you want to see a better future for Palestinians and Israelis, come find SJP and JVP and get involved. Educate your peers and push your local institutions – like this university – to stop making things worse by investing in companies that support the occupation.
The article closed by conflating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. Zionism at its core is Jewish nationalism, which is abstract and develops into meanings that each person interpreting it forms on his or her own. But the realization of Zionism in the creation of the State of Israel facilitated, to quote Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, “the ethnic cleansing of Palestine,” and developed into a process of colonization that resembles Manifest Destiny.
For example, Israel restricts Palestinian access to water and inflicts massacres such as Operation Protective Edge that occurred during summer of 2014. During that summer,according to the U.N., 1,462 Palestinian civilians, among them 495 children, were killed. Six Israeli civilians were killed in the same time frame.
Given this reality, it is no surprise that anti-Zionists exist. The attempted conflation of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism does a disservice to those who have been subjected to true forms of anti-Semitism, which is discrimination against someone for being Jewish. In fact, SJP is hosting a group called the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network later this month.
In summary, last week’s article accused SJP of polarizing campus. But in reality, SJP’s work, such as last year’s successful divestment campaign, has received almost unprecedented campus support, with a multitude of student organization endorsements and co-sponsorships. It is articles like the one written last week, which contain blatant lies and mischaracterizations, that are the true source of campus polarization and prevent us from reaching mutual understandings.
Peled is a fourth-year student and president of Jewish Voice for Peace at UCLA and the programming director of Students for Justice in Palestine at UCLA. Puri is a graduate student in physics and a member of SJP.