Two weeks ago, slanderous posters appeared down BruinWalk depicting the work of Students for Justice in Palestine as connected with terrorist organizations. This example of hate speech is not a new occurrence, but rather a continuation of a long slew of attacks levied against SJP and other organizations that try to raise awareness about the occupation in Palestine. This tactic is not unique to our cause. Whenever one side of a conflict feels that it is losing an argument, it resorts to “name-calling” and “fear-mongering,” which is how Dean of Students Maria Blandizzi described the posters.
As an organization, SJP strives to create a conversation around and raise awareness about the occupation of Palestine. We firmly believe that witnessing the systematic oppression of the Palestinian people makes it difficult for people to forget or feel comfortable being complicit in these crimes against humanity. In recent years, as awareness of the injustice of the Israeli occupation has been rising, so too have the instances of desperate attempts to conflate the secular organization SJP with violent religious ideologies.
For the uninitiated, the Israeli occupation of Palestine is a systematic attempt to uproot a group of 5.5 million people from their ancestral land on the basis of their race and religious beliefs. This is done through the forced displacement of Palestinians, moving Israeli civilians onto Palestinian land in order to reassign ownership, the implementation of illegal checkpoints that limit freedom of movement for Palestinians, demolition of Palestinian homes, systematic confiscation of land and, in the case of the Gaza strip, systematic planned aerial attacks on densely populated civilian areas that claim thousands of casualties. SJP advocates on behalf of the Palestinian people for the end of their perpetual mistreatment by Israeli governmental policies.
Our sympathies go out to every student that was offended by David Horowitz’s poster campaign.
We urge any and all students who are confused about the posters’ implications or who would like to learn more to contact SJP and we will gladly extend our resources to try to answer any questions you might have. We would also like to invite all students to our Palestine Awareness Week, which will be held during week four of winter quarter in Bruin Plaza to further raise awareness for this issue.
Abejón is a first-year political science student and the Students for Justice in Palestine education and resources director. Tahir is a UCLA alumna and former SJP education and resources director.
SJP at UCLA would like to reiterate its position on the issue of funding discrimination at the GSA.
Our central concern remains the uncontested fact that a student group was subjected to a funding condition that restricted its political viewpoint and restricted who the group could work with. You can read the draconian emails sent to the student group in full here.
We find this unacceptable and would like some guarantee that these actions will not occur again, not just to students who hold pro-Palestinian viewpoints but to students with viewpoints on any other issue.
With that said, although we do appreciate the sentence in GSA cabinet's Nov. 23 statement that it now understands that "all student funding must be allocated by a content-neutral basis,” the remainder of that statement, combined with the several other statements released by GSA leadership over the past several days, end up only raising more questions than they answer.
In its statement, the GSA Cabinet has now admitted that there was never a policy in existence that would allow the GSA to apply viewpoint restrictions when funding student groups. This means that the GSA President was not being truthful when claiming to student groups and to the Daily Bruin that such a policy existed, and it means that the GSA President acted outside of his authority when applying his own funding restrictions to student groups. These transgressions of public trust and authority add to the GSA President’s already documented refusal to provide the public with meeting minutes and policies. The public has a right to access these.
Later in its statement, the GSA Cabinet claimed to have later passed a “conceptual resolution” about neutrality, which it never provided to the Forum for a binding vote. We cannot find any evidence of what a “conceptual resolution” is or how the GSA Cabinet is empowered to pass such a resolution in its constitution or codes. We also question how such a conceptual resolution might have been used to violate the basic First Amendment rights of the student body.
What is most clear from these issues is that another statement will not suffice to resolve this problem.
At the very least, least two things are immediately required: first, an amendment to the GSA constitution that prohibits viewpoint discrimination in funding student groups; and second, a formal statement from the university administration clarifying to both student government and the student affairs staff that advises it, that these violations of the First Amendment are not acceptable. This violation of the law never should have happened and the fact that it was allowed to occur and persist suggests an institutional failure of both the GSA and the administrative staff charged with advising it. We look forward to hearing from the UCLA administration how it plans to address the problem.
Recently, the Graduate Student Association has come under scrutiny for discriminatory funding of student groups on campus. When asked about barring funding to groups that support divestment from companies violating Palestinian rights, GSA President Milan Chatterjee stated that the GSA had voted on a policy of neutrality with respect to Israel-Palestine issues. Although this is not a justification for denying groups funding (an issue addressed in our comprehensive blog post about the issue) it has raised serious questions about the lack of transparency about the GSA's policies and proceedings. Chatterjee stated to the Daily Bruin that the GSA voted on a policy of neutrality on October 26, but the date that he told a student group that he would not provide it funding if it endorsed divestment was October 16. This inconsistency has prompted students to request documentation of the policy in question and the vote or meeting that it came from. As seen from the exchange below, when asked to provide documentation of the vote or policy, Chatterjee refused.
Three legal groups, Palestine Legal, The American Civil Liberties Union - Southern California, and the Center for Constitutional Rights, have now issued a legal letter to the UCLA Administration and the GSA advising them of the illegality of the funding restrictions described below and requesting the GSA rescind this policy immediately.
The press release is located here, and the legal letter can be accessed here and is embedded at the bottom of this blog post.
Summary of Facts:
Students for Justice in Palestine at UCLA has learned that the Graduate Student Association (GSA) is tying funding for programming to restrictions on the ability of individuals and groups to advocate for divestment from corporations violating Palestinian human rights or to associate with groups advocating such a policy.
Emails released to SJP at UCLA (with screenshots included below) show the GSA president stating that GSA would fund the Diversity Caucus only on the condition that it have “zero connection with ‘Divest from Israel’ or any equivalent movement/organization.” The funding was for a Diversity Town Hall for the campus to discuss concerns about racism. In a followup email confirming the stipulations, the GSA president clarified that this position was official GSA policy. SJP has also learned that, three hours before the event, the GSA president threatened to revoke the funding if his stipulations were not followed.
This policy harms UCLA Graduate Students in four ways:
In the interests of all graduate students, and of people holding all political viewpoints, the GSA must formally rescind this policy at its next meeting. We have every confidence that the GSA will recognize the unconstitutional nature of this policy and act in the interests of all graduate and undergraduate students by formally rescinding this policy and taking steps to remedy the damage already done.
In the following parts of this statement, we reproduce the emails from the GSA President articulating this policy and then outline the ways in which the policy and actions taken by GSA violate the First Amendment of the US Constitution, which the GSA is bound by as part of a public institution and as a recipient of public funds.
Emails from GSA president Milan Chatterjee outlining funding restrictions based on speech in favor of divestment or association with groups promoting divestment:
How the GSA’s policy violates the First Amendment:
The GSA policy articulated by Chatterjee violates the 1st Amendment of the US Constitution in two ways - by restricting freedom of speech and freedom of association.
UCLA students reported seeing the above posters on signboards down BruinWalk at approximately 11:00 AM on Thursday, November 12th, 2015. Additional posters were found plastered along an electric street box on the corner of Strathmore and Gayley. At the time of this publication, no one has claimed responsibility for distributing this material. In the past year, posters similar to this one have surfaced across UCLA’s campus, integrating similar graphic imagery with propaganda aimed against Students for Justice in Palestine. These past instances were claimed by conservative writer David Horowitz.
These posters were also discovered on bulletin boards at UC San Diego’s campus, along with another poster defaming the Muslim Student Association (pictured below). The simultaneous appearance of these posters across different UC campuses signals that these efforts are strategic. Coupled with similar incidents in the past academic year, it is clear that these posters are showing up frequently across campuses and at regular intervals.
As academics, we believe that the right to free speech is critical in fostering an environment that allows room for differing ideologies. With that responsibility, however, comes the need to identify and condemn hate speech which defames specific identities, specifically as it correlates to a climate of incitement. Instead of addressing the ongoing occupation of Palestine, this recent iteration of slandering imagery only seeks to spread fear and conflate student activism with violence. It is grossly irresponsible and bars students from engaging in critical discussions, which serve a vital role in maintaining the free-flow of ideas at the university level. Intimidating a specific group of students will not limit their activism or curb their learning and is a desperate measure to counter the growing awareness and education surrounding Palestine.
Spreading vitriol in the form of violent anti-Arab and Islamophobic tropes is unacceptable and must be immediately addressed and actively condemned. SJP at UCLA calls upon the campus community to not let this be another instance where bigotry against Palestinians, Arabs and/or Muslims is tacitly condoned.
Vice Chancellors Kang, Vice Chancellor Montero, and Dean Blandizzi have all been contacted and it is our hope that administration will release a statement condemning this form of hate speech and take the appropriate measure of launching an investigation about the distribution of these posters. Student safety is a component fundamental to thoughtful academic engagement and a violation of this safety goes against our university’s standards.
If students witness other incidents of hate speech, please note the time and location of the occurrence, and contact UCPD by phone at (310) 825-1491 or by email at email@example.com. SJP at UCLA is archiving these incidents and would appreciate help with the process. Please send in documentation to firstname.lastname@example.org. Additionally, we encourage students to utilize the following services:
CSO escorts are available from dusk until 1 AM to walk students from any location on campus. Students should call 15 minutes before they need to leave. The number to contact them is (310) 794-WALK.
CSO evening vans run from Monday through Thursday, from 6pm to 11pm and will drop students off at the nearest intersection to their apartment. The number to contact them is (310) 825-1493.
More information on these services is available here.