Let’s talk about justice – a term that has been hijacked by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) over the course of their existence. Justice is defined as “the quality of being just; righteousness, equitableness or moral rightness”. Students for Justice in Palestine, however, might have forgotten to look up that very important word when selecting the right title for their national organization. It seems like in their eyes, morality and righteousness is equivalent to disrupting events, shouting threats for support of terror such as, “Long live the Intifada” and calling for the ethnic cleansing of Jews in the form of chants “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” across college campuses in the United States.
When we speak about justice, or to be more precise- the lack of it, we have to acknowledge the consistent bullying and intimidation strategies that SJP has been using against pro-Israel organizations on American colleges. One particular place seems to hold the record for these kinds of incidents- the University of California at Irvine (UCI). Its history goes way back to hosting Amir Abdel Malik Ali in 2006 who accused the Jewish state of perpetrating a genocide against the Palestinian people (whose population has quadrupled since 1948). He also described Israel as the “Fourth Reich” and described Jews as the “New Nazis.”
In 2010, activists disrupted a speech by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren. This action prompted the arrest of eleven members of the Muslim Student Union (MSU). In response to this disruption, UCI suspended the chapter for a year, but in the long-term nothing changed.
Two years later, UCI’s student government became one of the first in the nation to pass a the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) resolution against Israel. Following those events, SJP has been a pioneer in organizing an “Israel Apartheid Week” each spring and a leader at disruptions of Israel events on campus. On May 18, 2016, Students Supporting Israel (SSI) hosted the film screening “Beneath the Helmet,” which told the stories of five IDF soldiers. SJP aggressively disrupted the event, blocking exits and entrances, which caused the students in the room to be escorted out by the police. The day after the disruption, Chancellor Gillman sent out an email, stating that the incident that occurred on campus had “crossed the line of civility.” In response, legal observers from the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) commented that “allegations against SJP at UCI are part of a larger ‘“concerted effort’” to intimidate and silence activists for Palestine.”
The NLG portrayed SJP activists — who denied the rights of their fellow students to host events — as victims.
It is common sense to conclude even before an official investigation has been conducted that if students gathering for a peaceful assembly need to be escorted out by police for their own safety because of SJP, the intimidated and silenced group of people might just not be Students for Justice in Palestine.
Three months later, the UCI administration came out with a statement acknowledging that SJP violated student conduct policies, however, they were only given a written warning which included a requirement for them to host an educational program.
A similar disruption took place again the following year. In May 2017, SJP once again disrupted an SSI event through organized chanting and sporadic yelling, refusing to permit the invited IDF soldiers their right to speak on the campus. For the second time in recent memory pro-Israel students had to be escorted out by police out of concerns for their safety. As if SJP did not get enough space and attention on campus to delegitimize and spread lies about Israel during their own series of events, they aggressively prevented the pro-Israel voice from responding to their false accusations. If anything, this incident highlights that written warnings issued to SJP are not effective.
One of the countless differences between pro-Israel groups across the nation and SJP is deeply rooted in their respective definitions of success. While one group celebrates the existence of its nation, the other is preoccupied with false victimhood and constant attacks. After SJP’s disruption in 2016, the group didn’t take too long to post on their Facebook page that “they have successfully demonstrated against the presence of IDF soldiers on campus”. The same situation took place again after their disruption of SSI’s event in 2017. The following day, SJP was standing loud in the middle of campus, once again proudly chanting that they had shut down another IDF panel for a second year in a row. In short, they bragged about denying the rights of their fellow students to speak.
Whenever SJP disrupts a pro-Israel event, the immediate reaction by many is that they are exercising their First Amendment rights. However, it is important to remember that their First Amendment cannot come at the expense of our First Amendment right for peaceful assembly. One does not have more legitimacy over the other, and should not be given a free pass for continuous harassment and intimidation. The University has to take the appropriate disciplinary measures against an organization that has violated free speech for too long on campus.The UCI community cannot tolerate pro-Israel students being escorted out of their own event for the third time in a row.It is high time that justice is served at UCI. SJP must finally experience the true meaning of the term; another written warning will simply not do.
Contributed by Katrin Gendova, Midwest Campus Coordinator for CAMERA