September 6, 2017
Following years of disruptive behavior by the University of California at Irvine (UCI)’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), UCI announced last week that it has sanctioned SJP “with disciplinary probation for two academic years.” The university’s action follows steadfast action by several organizations that have spoken up for UCI’s Jewish and pro-Israel students, including the Louis D. Brandeis Center, StandWithUs (SWU), Students Supporting Israel (SSI), and the AMCHA Initiative.
This probation follows SJP’s May disruption of an on-campus discussion sponsored by UCI’s chapter of SSI. The May 10 SSI event featured five Israel Defense Forces (IDF) reservists, appearing on behalf of “Reservists on Duty,” a group of Israeli reservists who attend campus meetings to discuss IDF policy. The SSI meeting was interrupted repeatedly by shouting, chanting, and other verbal disruption by the students affiliated with SJP. Several of the interruptions featured profanity, including the SJP members repeatedly screaming “F-you” at the IDF reservists. Videos of the exchanges were captured by Gary Fouse, a retired UCI instructor who has done much to chronicle anti-Israel and anti-Jewish activity on that campus over the years.
In two strongly-worded letters sent in May and July, the Louis D. Brandeis Center, together with SWU and SSI, chronicled the abuses suffered by the students, and urged UCI to rectify the situation. The May letter insisted that “more must be done … to prevent SJP from engaging in this type of discriminatory and disruptive behavior again against Jewish and pro-Israel students.” LDB, SWU, and SSI reminded UCI of their obligations under federal law, as well as the UC Regent’s “Statement of Principles Against Intolerance,” which announced that “Anti-Semitism, anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination have no place at the University of California.” The Brandeis Center also signed onto a letter organized by the AMCHA Initiative, signed by a total of 53 groups, urging further action.
After UCI Chancellor Gillman and Vice Provost Haynes acknowledged the severity of the disruption and professed concern for the safety and security of all students, LDB, SWU, and SSI sent a second letter in July outlining violations of the California Penal Code and UCI Policy and urging the UCI administration to take forceful disciplinary action. “It is unfortunate that UCI needed to be reminded of its legal obligations in this way,” LDB President Kenneth L. Marcus commented, “But we are glad that UCI is now signaling that it will protect its students from such outrages in the future. This new action is deserving of praise.”
This was not LDB’s first involvement with UCI. In May 2016, SJP and their affiliates disrupted another SSI event, featuring the screening of the film “Beneath The Helmet.” This incident led to a six-month “warning” period for SJP. UCI Jewish student Eliana Kopley was chased and intimidated during the course of this disruption, and forced to hide in a kitchen under the protection of UCI staff. The Brandeis Center represented Kopley during the aftermath of this incident, working with Hillel International and other organizations. UCI rejected SJP’s First Amendment claims and found that SJP was responsible for violation of the UCI Code of Conduct’s provision prohibiting “Obstruction or disruption of teaching, research, administration, disciplinary procedures, or other University activities.” SJP was issued a formal written warning (which lasted until March 29, 2017), and was required to host a program that would educate about the behavior demonstrated during the incident. This was a first step in securing further university action against groups like SJP.
Earlier, in February 2010, Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren was speaking on UCI’s campus about U.S.-Israeli relations. Members of the Muslim Student Union (MSU) of UCI interrupted the meeting, shouted down the Israeli ambassador. An investigation into the incidents detailed a plan by MSU to “send the speaker a message and to develop a game plan to disrupt Oren’s speech.” This incident led to the suspension of the Muslim Student Union student group in its entirety, along with a required 50 hours of community service for the members involved. Several UCI students, referred to as the “Irvine 11,” had criminal charges brought against them.
Since 2010, however, UCI has responded to continuing harassment of Jewish students only when pushed to do so by the Brandeis Center and other groups that are concerned about the welfare of University of California students. In addition to the Brandeis Center, StandWithUs, SSI, and the AMCHA Initiative, these groups have included Hillel International, Hasbara Fellowships, CAMERA on Campus, and the Zionist Organization of America.
While the disciplinary probation at UCI will send a message that SJP’s disruptive and uncivil activities will not be tolerated, it demonstrates a troubling trend of administrators refusing to take strong action against students violating their own policies until pushed to do so.
UCI has, at the very least, taken action under pressure that will send a strong message to other university administrations and SJP chapters nationwide. UCI has signaled that the misbehavior of groups like SJP will not go unpunished, and that the party responsible has been named and denounced for their actions. The actions taken by UCI also help amplify recent actions taken elsewhere in response to SJP chapters. Other examples of similar actions taken by other universities include both Northeastern University’s 2014 suspension of their SJP chapter, and Fordham University’s refusal to recognize SJP on their campus this past January. Hopefully, with the examples of UCI, Fordham, and Northeastern, other universities may soon find it easier to address student conduct code violations by anti-Israel extremist groups. Every action taken by these universities, is a step towards allowing academic and scholarly freedom for every student and student group on American campuses.