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May 20, 2016 12:57 pm

Student Group Calls for End to Intimidation, Harassment of Jewish, Zionist Students Following Violent Anti-Israel Protest at UC Irvine (VIDEO)

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Hillel International CEO Eric Fingerhut called to end the harassment  and intimidation of Jewish and pro-Israel students on college campuses. Photo: Hillel International.

Hillel International CEO Eric Fingerhut called to end the harassment and intimidation of Jewish and pro-Israel students on college campuses. Photo: Hillel International.

Jewish and pro-Israel students across college campuses cannot be allowed “to be intimidated or harassed when they exercise their rights to assemble for student programming,” the head of the world’s largest Jewish student organization told The Algemeiner on Friday.

Eric Fingerhut, president and CEO of Hillel International, made his comments in response to a violent anti-Israel protest at University of California, Irvine (UCI) on Wednesday evening against a UCI Hillel co-sponsored screening of “Beneath the Helmet,” a film that follows the lives of soldiers serving in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

The pro-Israel event, held by UCI’s chapter of Students Supporting Israel (SSI), was aggressively protested by the local chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and the Muslim Student Union (MSU). The event was part of Israel Peace Week at UCI, following this month’s earlier “anti-Zionism week.”

In a video capturing the protest, anti-Israel students can be heard shouting “long live the intifada,” “f*** the police” and “displacing people since ‘48/ there’s nothing here to celebrate!”

According to statements by UCI’s SSI on Facebook, protesters also shouted, “All white people need to die” and chased a female student into an adjacent building. They “were aggressive, blocking exits and not allowing people to leave, as well as forcing people to run and hide in their rooms, fearing for their lives.”

Fingerhut condemned the “actions of the nearly 40 individuals who aggressively confronted and threatened a group of 10 UCI students who were attending a pro-Israel event on campus.” He told The Algemeiner that protesters “physically intimidated at least one Jewish student who was attempting to enter the building where the program was held.”

According to Fingerhut, Hillel officials were forced to call university police after it was “no longer possible to maintain a safe environment for the Jewish students in attendance.” In some instances, police had to escort students safely away from the event.

“While the protest was allowed to continue, the university took steps to protect the Jewish students. Hillel is working with the university administration to ensure the safety of Jewish students and the entire campus community. The safety of students is our top priority,” he said.

In response to the protest, UCI Chancellor Howard Gillman wrote in a campus-wide email:

While this university will protect freedom of speech, that right is not absolute…threats, harassment, incitement and defamatory speech are not protected. We must shelter everyone’s right to speak freely – without fear or intimidation – and allow events to proceed without disruption and potential danger.

Gillman said the protest “crossed the line of civility” and that the UCI administration will be “investigating whether disciplinary or legal actions are appropriate.”

Hillel’s Fingerhut applauded UCI’s response to the violence, telling The Algemeiner, “We support the efforts of UCI leadership to investigate and resolve this incident in an appropriate and timely fashion and to hold students who threatened Jewish students accountable for their actions. We encourage the administration to ensure that campus codes of conduct provide for a civil atmosphere and tolerant environment for all students.”

Following the protest, UCI’s SJP issued their own statement on Facebook, accusing Israel and the IDF of a host of crimes and gloating over their activities to block free speech on campus. 

“Today we successfully demonstrated against the presence of IDF soldiers on campus,” the group said. “We condemn the Israeli ‘Defense’ Forces, better defined as Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF), because they enforce Zionist settler colonialism and military occupation of Palestinian land by the Israeli nation-state. Not only does the IOF commit murders and several violences against the Palestinian people, including its use of Gaza as a laboratory for weapons testing, but it enforces militarization and policing all over the world. The United States send delegations of police forces to train in Israel by the IOF, such as the LAPD and NYPD for example.”

The group continued, “The presence of IDF and police threatened our coalition of Arab, black, undocumented, trans, and the greater activist community. Thank you to all that came out and bravely spoke out against injustice. ‪#‎UCIntifada‬.”

SSI said they are “currently in talks with the university and our own legal counsels as to the consequences that these aggressors will face.”

Anti-Israel activism is not new to UCI. According to campus watchdog group the AMCHA Initiative, previous anti-Israel protests and events centered on supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement; condoning terrorism; denying Jewish self determination; delegitimizing the right of the state of Israel to exist; and the suppression of free speech and right to assemble.

In 2011, a group of Muslim students at UCI were sentenced to three years informal probation by a judge after being found guilty of conspiracy to disrupt and disrupting a 2010 campus speech by then Israeli ambassador to the US, Michael Oren. The students, who have become infamously known as the “Irvine 11,” generated a national debate over free speech.

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