Our Fall Quarter began with a powerful lineup of events including our International Day of Action and a Panel Discussion on the Palestine Exception in October and our Spoken Word Poetry Night featuring Remi Kanazi and Sy Stokes in November--all of which had tremendous turnout. In conjunction with dozens of SJP chapters around the world, SJP at UCLA took part in the October 14 2015 International Day of Action in Meyerhoff Park. Students organized a Die-In and poetry reading to commemorate the plight and struggle of the Palestinian people, especially the scores of young Palestinian lives stolen by the Israeli forces in the preceding weeks. On October 21 2015, we hosted a panel discussion on the “Palestine Exception to Free Speech,” an event based on Palestine Legal’s report of the same name documenting the widespread crackdown on campus advocacy for Palestinian freedom and self-determination. Our panelists included Dima Khalidi, the founder and Director of Palestine Legal, and Professor Saree Makdisi as well as student panelists Tina Matar of UC Riverside and Omar Zahzah of UCLA. After informative and moving words by each panelist, we hosted a lively discussion about the growing challenge faced by Palestinian activists.
Statement of Principles Against Intolerance:
SJP at UCLA and SJPs at others UCs have been subject to threats to free speech for years, and this past academic year was witness to yet another attempt to intimidate groups from advocacy. First, at the behest of organizations like the AMCHA Initiative, the UC Regents considered adopting the State Department’s inaccurate “3Ds” definition of anti-Semitism which conflates principled criticism of Israeli policy with bigotry as UC policy. Following widespread outcry, the Regents then considered a “Statement of Principles Against Intolerance” that directly conflated anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. The heated battle raged for months with progressive groups such as the UC graduate student workers union (UAW 2865) and Jewish Voice for Peace, along with thousands of individual faculty and student voices raising strong opposition to the statement. Thanks to this vast mobilization, the “Statement of Principles Against Intolerance” was passed with an edit condemning instead “anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism,” a definite improvement over the original. To be sure, this was a victory made possible yet again by the power of organized voices of conscience.
In October 2015, SJP learned that the Graduate Student Association (GSA) had created funding restrictions that withheld University funding from going to students groups that advocate for divestment from corporations violating Palestinian human rights or even to organization that associate with groups advocating such a divestment policy. SJP board members met with administration repeatedly throughout the year in order to remove the policy and rectify the harm done by it. Palestine Legal, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the ACLU became involved to defend student’s First Amendment rights and put an end to what was a clear violation of UCLA’s own policy on viewpoint-neutral funding. During this fiasco, a Palestinian member of the larger GSA cabinet who is not affiliated with SJP was unfairly attacked and retaliated against after resigning from his position in protest of the policy.
After nearly a year of working with GSA forum members, we were able to reverse the policy and ensure that future funding decisions will be made fairly. Further, we were also able to initiate a full investigation by the Discrimination Prevention Office into this matter. The DPO report conclusively found that the GSA president violated University policy requiring viewpoint neutrality in allocating mandatory student fees. Disciplinary decisions are to be decided now by the Dean of Students.
Although in this case we were able to successfully fight back against elected officials’ attempt to restrict our rights, we believe this case to be merely a microcosm of a larger phenomenon where the right to advocate for the BDS campaign is being sabotaged by public officers. The LA Times wrote in a recent editorial, that “Politicians are free to denounce BDS if they choose. But they must do so without infringing on the rights of their constituents.” A failure to understand this principle is the central mistake that the GSA President made, and it is the mistake that the California Legislature must now be persuaded not to repeat.
The Business of Backlash:
It’s been slightly over a year since a student and faculty focused McCarthyist website (which shall not be named or linked) was created by an Israeli-funded Hasbara group. We’ve seen countless allies and even some of our own members listed. This shadowy pro-Israel group’s attempts to defame and intimidate students from participating in advocacy is nothing new, but rather part of the larger machine to stop an ever-growing movement of conscientious Americans who oppose Israel’s policies toward Palestinians. As the pro-Palestine movement continues to grow exponentially, we have seen some of the new depths to which the pro-Israel groups will sink. This includes several more iterations of campus vandalism by David Horowitz and his bigoted organization. As the newest posters put up on university campuses by Horowitz and his allies listed specific student and professor names, we are working closely with the University administration to uphold student safety and promote a learning environment free from fear-tactics. We are happy to declare that despite these efforts by outside groups, these defamatory posters have been clearly denounced and rejected by all of UCLA and its administration.
A New Year
SJP has certainly faced many hurdles over the past several years, but the courage of both its members and conscientious students at large allows Palestinian rights advocacy to continue growing. As Pew Polls have shown, a new generation of progressive-minded people are learning about about the Palestinian story and unlearning a decades-long campaign of pro-Israel propaganda. Over the course of the coming year, we excitedly look forward to expanding our solidarity with our fellow student working on important campaigns such as Black Lives Matter, Prison and Fossil Fuel Divestment, Migrant Rights, Ending Deportation, and many others. We plan on increasing our educational efforts and strategies to engage a new student body as well as launching new ways to engage in the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement.
In closing, I am immensely delighted to announce the incoming SJP’s 2016-2017 board: Rachel Kuria, Omar Mansour, Robert Gardner, Praptee Chowdhury, Prateek Puri, and Sarah Schmitt. These individuals have the passion and vision to take SJP forward in the coming year to new levels and, together, will greatly further the cause for Palestinian freedom.
Relevant Articles and Daily Bruin Submissions
Our Events and Other Submissions. http://dailybruin.com/2015/10/15/sjp-rallies-as-part-of-international-day-of-action-for-palestine/
Statement of Principles Against Intolerance Saga
Hateful Posters Saga