On October 22nd, the UCLA Undergraduate Students Association Council voted to defeat a resolution that threatened the ability for students to pursue divestment from companies tied to the Israeli occupation. The resolution, entitled “A Resolution In Support of Positive Steps Towards an Israeli-Palestinian Peace" framed divestment as a source of tension on campus, while also calling for "positive investment" in a basket of companies loosely affiliated with both Israelis and Palestinians. . During the effort to defeat this bill, we received solidarity statements from around the world, explaining the futility of the bill's "positive investment" clauses and the importance of divestment as a non-violent response to the occupation. For more, please see our press release. Here is a statement sent by Sam Bahour that addresses "positive investment."
By Rahim Kurwa
The University of California recently commissioned a report on the campus climate that accuses students and faculty who are critical of Israel of contributing to a negative environment for Jewish students. Under the false assumption that criticism of Israeli state policies constitutes hate speech against Jewish students, the report recommends wide forms of censorship to limit criticism of Israel. These include banning speakers from campus to enforcing “balance” at political events to prohibiting “hate speech” that is allegedly anti-Semitic under a controversial definition of that word.
Some Jewish students excluded from the report have blasted the assumption that criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic. The report has been widely criticized in themedia and by Palestinian rights advocates, Jewish groups, and free speech supporters. But relatively little attention has been paid to the role of the UC Administration in contributing to a climate of fear, censorship, and intimidation for those speaking out against human rights violations in Israel/Palestine.
The infographic below documents some of the worst examples of the administration intimidating and censoring students and faculty who speak in support of Palestinian rights during the past three years. These incidents give much needed context to the recently released report, which calls for restrictions on speech so severe that even its authors acknowledge may “result in legal challenges.”
(Click on the image below to view it larger)
Published on Mondoweiss:
By Suleiman Hodali
The UC Students Association should be commended for courageously standing in opposition to HR 35, the recently passed California Assembly bill that equates legitimate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism and seeks to censor free speech and political activism across California’s public universities.
It should go without saying that all forms of racism and bigotry, including anti-Semitism, should be vigorously opposed by all members of the University. But one glance at the language of the bill reveals that HR 35 is less concerned with combating bigotry than it is with claiming that criticism of Israeli state policy is anti-Semitic, a position that is strongly opposed by many prominent Jewish groups on both sides of the political spectrum.
HR 35 is an attempt to silence and intimidate the growing student movement for Palestinian equal rights and, more specifically, to stifle the growing Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign against Israel for its continued violations of human rights and international law.
While HR 35 bypasses decades of academic and legal scholarship in order to stifle criticism of Israel at the University (a space whose most intrinsic function is to allow for the free exchange of ideas), groups like Students for Justice in Palestine base their positions on equal rights and international law. We believe that HR 35 is a reaction to the growing public consensus that Israel’s behavior towards the Palestinians is wrong.
The brutal military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the systematic discrimination against Palestinians inside Israel’s own borders and the denial of the right to return for civilians who endured ethnic cleansing in 1948 are objectionable behaviors that increasing numbers of students are standing up against on campuses across the United States.
The effort to stifle criticism of Israel on campuses has already resulted in attacks on the academic freedom of professors at UCLA and other campuses.
And now, as groups like Students for Justice in Palestine and the National MEChA have endorsed calls for boycott, divestment and sanctions, defenders of Israeli apartheid have become so desperate as to support criminalizing free speech.
The UCSA was quick to respond to this, expressing their “strong opposition to HR 35 and expressing the UCSA’s opposition to all racism, whether it be the racism of campus and global anti-Semitism or the racism of Israel’s human rights violations, neither of which our campuses should tolerate, support, or profit from.”
The UCSA isn’t the only group opposed to HR 35 and other attempts to stifle criticism of Israel on campus. California Scholars for Academic Freedom, Jewish Voice for Peace, the Berkeley Free Speech Movement Archives, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, the Asian Law Caucus, the National Lawyers Guild, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the UC Student-Workers Union, Angela Davis and, most recently, David Myers, chair of the UCLA history department, have all weighed in to criticise HR 35 or other similar efforts.
As UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof put it, “One can object deeply to the policies of Israel. Our students should have a right to protest what they believe to be an unlawful and immoral action.”
When our critics oppose fake checkpoints and mock walls on campus because they make students uncomfortable, we remember that the discomfort felt by looking at the wall or seeing a student dressed up as a soldier is just a fraction of the discomfort felt by Palestinians who face real checkpoints, real walls and real soldiers on a daily basis.
When they argue that boycotts are extreme measures, we reply that boycotts are a tactic thatUCLA students have used many times before, most notably to pressure the South African government to abandon its apartheid policies.
And when opponents of Palestinian rights claim that we are singling out Israel for special criticism, we remind them that this was a common claim made by defenders of apartheid in South Africa.
As Desmond Tutu wrote in 2010, “The same issue of equality is what motivates the divestment movement of today, which tries to end Israel’s 43-year long occupation and the unequal treatment of the Palestinian people by the Israeli government ruling over them. The abuses they face are real, and no person should be offended by principled, morally consistent, nonviolent acts to oppose them. It is no more wrong to call out Israel in particular for its abuses than it was to call out the Apartheid regime in particular for its abuses.”
Hodali is a graduate student in comparative literature and a member of Students for Justice in Palestine at UCLA.
By Suleiman Hodali
The recent criminal convictions of the UC Irvine and Riverside students most popularly known as the Irvine 11 have roused much concern over the historical role of the university as a space for free speech in American society.
Following the Israeli military offensive on the Gaza Strip in the beginning of 2009, a civil protest was put together by the Irvine 11 during a staged speech by Israeli ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, at UCI. Despite immediate discipline imposed against the students by the university, in which an entire student group’s activities were suspended for a full year, the Orange County District Attorney’s office filed misdemeanor charges against the eleven students for disrupting a meeting and conspiring to disrupt a meeting - almost a year to the day following the protest.
To understand the symbolic agents involved in the tableau of this protest, a focus must be made on the object of protest at hand: a government representative of a country that had just committed what the UN has sanctioned as heinous war crimes – all part of a legacy of war crimes that American tax dollars and tractable politicians have supported unconditionally for decades. In this sense, the Irvine 11 protest is a conventional exemplar of American citizens speaking out, through symbolic free speech, against American complicity in Israel's onslaughts on the most densely populated place on earth. Some of the defendants had lost child-aged relatives in the 22-day long, arbitrary assault on schools, hospitals, factories, and places of religious worship. Over 1400 Palestinians were murdered - many of them children. In a current environment of American public sentiment overwhelmingly hostile to Arab or Muslim visibility, the university has become the last forum for an oft-marginalized experience and silenced voice to be accessed and heard.
Countless events and speakers at this university, with content sympathetic to the plight of Palestinians at the hand of Israel, have been subject to disruptions and derision with no consequences imposed against violators by the university or otherwise. Not only is the criminalization of the Irvine 11 another attempt to silence and intimidate any efforts made to expose Palestinian subjugation to Israeli military occupation, violence, and endless human rights violations, but it is also a clear move by intrusive political forces to employ scare tactics against anyone who wishes to utilize one of the university's traditional functions as a platform for exercising free speech.
It is important that students from all political, cultural, and social affiliations express a symbolic gesture of solidarity with the Irvine 11 - not only for trying to make heard those who would otherwise remain voiceless, but for their courage to preserve the academy as a site for public discourse.
At UCLA, on this National Day of Solidarity with the Eleven, Students for Justice in Palestine, the Muslim Student Association, Afrikan Student Union, Vietnamese Student Union, MEChA, Pacific Islander Student Association, Asian Pacific Coalition, and Samahang Pilipino proudly stand in solidarity with the Irvine 11 and refuse to see student activism silenced on our campus.