The months long investigation found that the GSA President violated UC Policy when attempting to bar funding to student groups engaged in pro-divestment speech. SJP has posted the redacted report online.
In a letter dated June 29, 2016, the UCLA Discrimination Prevention Office issued the findings from its investigation into potentially discriminatory acts by the 2015-2016 GSA President. At question was whether the GSA President had issued a restriction on access to student government funding that discriminated against pro-Palestinian viewpoints, and by extension the students who hold those views. The DPO’s investigation included 17 interviews as well as reviews of emails, meeting minutes, and other documents relevant to the issue. Among other things, the DPO found that:
It should be noted that the DPO’s findings support the claims SJP made from beginning to end of this affair.
We believe that this case is an important issue for the UCLA public to understand, so as to ensure that future student governments do not repeat the mistakes of the 2015-16 GSA President. This case furthermore serves as a lesson about free speech, the role of student government on campus, and the consequences that follow when individuals in positions of power attempt to engage in censorship of a particular group’s viewpoint.
Now that this case is fully behind us, having been resolved by the GSA Forum’s resolution revoking the policy and apologizing to students, its letter of censure to the GSA President, and now these findings by the DPO, SJP at UCLA looks forward to continuing our work to educate and organize the campus in support of Palestinian freedom, equality, and justice. We will continue to make our argument that the UC system must cease investing in or supporting corporations that facilitate the violation of Palestinian human rights, and we look forward to doing so at both the undergraduate and graduate student level.
As a final point, we recognize that this attempt at censorship did not occur in a vacuum. For years now, pro-Israel groups have attempted to censor our side of the debate on the question of Palestine, presumably because they have no legitimate means of countering our arguments. Campus activism moves forward despite these attempts at censorship, but they cost time and energy to resist. The GSA President’s attempt to silence SJP’s point of view is of a piece with this longer trend of repression, but also serves as a case study and preview of the effects of legislation proposed in the California State Legislature. Attempts to use government power to single out individual viewpoints and penalize them are antithetical to free speech, corrosive to democracy, and a sign that today’s politicians have failed to learn the lessons of recent American history. If the effect of the GSA President’s censorious acts on UCLA’s campus climate are any indication, similar actions taken by the California government will also violate the law, intimidate citizens, and chill free speech. This is why 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.
When campus climate is used as a political weapon, it degrades the concept and hurts all students. That’s what happened last Friday when the California Assembly’s Select Committee on Campus Climate held a hearing at UCLA’s James West Alumni Center to discuss campus climate issues throughout the state of California. If you didn’t hear about this hearing, it’s probably not a coincidence; the meeting was not publicized, and it seems to have been thrown together at the last minute.
Even more distressing than the timing and publicity, however, is the issue of representation. The meeting purported to deal with campus climate, yet it did not discuss most of the major issues facing students from a variety of backgrounds on campus. Although the hearing did touch on deplorable instances of anti-Semitism, much of the discussion was focused on bashing pro-Palestinian speech and actions. Shockingly, despite being scheduled shortly after the latest round of David Horowitz posters directly attacking pro-Palestine students and faculty, the committee opted not to include any Palestinians on the student panel, and only directly addressed Palestine and Israel by asking pro-Israel students questions about their feelings of personal well-being and safety.
This bias is particularly alarming given that Horowitz’s actions are a perfect demonstration of how pro-Palestine students and faculty, particularly students and faculty of color, are the ones facing intense, defamatory blowback for what ought to be protected political speech and beliefs. And while the eventual inclusion of Tahira Kazmi, a member of the Muslim Student Association, or MSA, and Eitan Peled, of Jewish Voice for Peace, or JVP, and Students for Justice in Palestine at UCLA, on the student panel was a positive development – albeit one that took significant pressure to achieve – it remains problematic, perhaps tellingly so, that those managing a hearing about student well-being that took place so close in time to instances of anti-Palestinian animus on university campuses saw no issue with omitting Palestinian students.
This partiality is perhaps best put into perspective by the political agenda being advanced by one of the assembly members at the hearing, Richard Bloom. Bloom recently introduced AB 2844 in the California Assembly. This is a McCarthyist bill that would prevent state contracts with any companies that choose to discontinue business operations in Israel and the occupied territories that further the violation of Palestinian rights.
This ideological partiality even seems to have played out in the assembly members’ own questions. After Tina Aoun, the director of the Middle Eastern Student Center at the University of California, Riverside, mentioned both an incident that is currently being investigated as a hate crime by UCR officials that was partially motivated by anti-Palestinian sentiment as well the experiences of a Palestinian UCR student who received death threats and hate mail for teaching a class on Palestine, Assembly member Jose Medina only questioned Aoun to follow up on whether a class with a pro-Israel perspective had also been offered. Furthermore, although David Horowitz’s defamatory posters had been directly referenced at least four times by students and commenters, neither Bloom nor Medina saw it fit to follow up about this incident, a strange oversight given that the hearing was allegedly dedicated to student welfare in relation to freedom of expression.
By their unwillingness to engage with hate crimes and hate speech against Palestinians in the University of California system, assembly members Bloom and Medina demonstrated that they don’t really care about campus climate at all. The hearing seems to have been a hollow gesture that would allow for squarely pro-Israel state politicians to reinforce their ideological biases while pretending to objectively cater to the feelings and experiences of marginalized student voices.
It is unclear what, if anything, will come out of this hearing. But, as the Joint Council forUAW 2865, the union representing over 14,000 student workers across the UC system, recently expressed in a statement responding to the latest batch of Horowitz posters, until the UC Regents and university officials can put aside their relentless pro-Israel agenda enough to genuinely address student welfare and concerns, they are just as complicit in creating a hostile campus climate for students as the individuals who put up the latest round of Horowitz posters. We can say exactly the same for state politicians. Is a relentless focus on Israel really worth ignoring the harassment, intimidation and marginalization that students continue to face? We hope not, and this should be just as true for Palestinian students as for any other.
On Saturday, June 28, the Daily Cal reported that a Bruins United candidate, Avi Oved, sent an email to Adam Milstein in which he thanked him for his contribution to his political group and discussed ongoing efforts to combat divestment through student government. This evidence comes after earlier revelations that Milstein's foundation funded student leaders' trips to Israel with partisan political organizations that oppose measures to promote Palestinian human rights.
Below are screenshots of Milstein's tweets, which in our opinion demonstrate a clearly bigoted worldview. We document these tweets because we believe that the ethical problems related to this issue include both the impropriety of soliciting outside funding for elections and the shockingly bigoted views of the provider of these funds.
We, the undersigned student groups, have taken it upon ourselves to respond directly to the email you recently sent out to the entirety of the campus community. While we appreciate your recognition that drafting and distributing the “Joint Statement on USAC Ethics” falls within the realm of free-speech, we take issue with the fact that the rest of the email is effectively an indictment of the statement that promotes an inaccurate impression of its message and intent.
You write that “just because speech is constitutionally protected doesn't mean that it is wise, fair or productive,” and then go on to add that you are “troubled that the pledge sought to delegitimize educational trips offered by some organizations but not others,” and that the statement “can reasonably be seen as trying to eliminate selected viewpoints from the discussion." These claims imply that the point of the statement was to delegitimize groups based on national and/or religious identification, or to attack students who have a certain stance on political issues. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The ethics statement is about holding student leaders accountable. It is about calling on them to become cognizant of their role as representatives for the general student body by disallowing their neutrality to be compromised by gifts and allegiances to off-campus groups, and to realize that their affiliation with the organizations in question is hurtful to various campus communities.
We are pleased that your message showed sensitivity to the experiences of students on campus, but we cannot help but note the silence in regards to the anti-Arab and Islamophobic speech being promoted by the very groups in question.
While everyone is entitled to their own opinion, Islamophobia is hateful and discriminatory, and it is beyond disheartening for us to have to defend our attempts to remind student leaders why their connection to organizations that host Islamophobic speakers and promote and distribute Islamophobic material marginalizes individuals of UCLA’s Muslim community. Additionally, these groups’ ties to anti-Armenian organizations, active roles in lobbying against US recognition of the Armenian genocide, as well as various other human rights violations alienate Afrikan, Armenian and Palestinian students.
Furthermore, we are saddened to see that despite the efforts of groups such as SJP and MSA to raise concerns about the hate-speech, threats and intimidation they have experienced on campus, it is only protecting the integrity of off-campus lobbying groups that warrants this type of intervention. This latest development seems the most recent manifestation of the very issue to which we have been attempting to call attention: that off-campus groups with a particular ideological agenda are exerting an unhealthy influence on campus affairs.
If you truly believe that discourse should remain civil, inclusive, and respectful even when disagreements are present, then surely you will take these concerns into account and realize why it is problematic to issue a message upholding the rights of student leaders to receive benefits from organizations tied to Islamophobia and other practices that marginalize various campus communities. If you truly believe that everyone’s belief, opinion and identity should be respected, then you will understand why it is disingenuous to admonish others for their rightful criticism of student leaders’ connections to such groups and remain silent about these groups’ discriminatory practices. If you truly believe in keeping our campus community as open and democratic as possible, you will understand why holding our student leaders accountable for their actions by ensuring their conduct remains unswayed by the influence of off-campus organizations is integral to the preservation of a just and transparent student government.
Finally, while your message claimed that the ethics statement singled out particular views and groups, in fact the statement called on student leaders not to accept free or sponsored trips from any organizations that marginalize campus communities, whether the organization discriminates on the basis of race, religion, color, age, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, physical ability, mental ability, marital status, financial status or social status, or engage in any other form of systematic prejudiced oppression. We would think this is a sentiment anyone honestly dedicated to fair and equal treatment should be able to get behind, and we find it unfortunate that your email presents the statement as an attempt to discriminate against others when its purpose was to promote the diminishment of discrimination by demanding more tolerant and respectful practices on behalf of our student government.
Thank you for your time.
Students for Justice in Palestine at UCLA
Jewish Voice for Peace at UCLA
Afrikan Student Union at UCLA
Black Pre-Law Association at UCLA
United Arab Society
Armenian Student Association
Muslim Students Association
MeChA de UCLA
Pakistani Student Association
(to add your student group, please email email@example.com)