Fear of Reprisal Leads UC Davis Administration to Capitulate to Violent Anti-Israel Students, Say Pro-Israel Campus Activists
The administration at the University of California, Davis (UC Davis) has capitulated to violent and disruptive anti-Israel student groups — as seen through its weak response to recent anti-Israel campus activities — out of fear of their reprisal, members of the pro-Israel community at UC Davis said this week.
Zachary Nelson, president of the student group Aggies for Israel; Al Sokolow, co-chair of Davis Faculty for Israel (DFI); and Edward Rabin, professor of law and member of DFI, told The Algemeiner that the administration’s fears against the potential backlash posed from such groups as Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), the Muslim Student Association (MSA) and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) — who are notorious for violent anti-Israel activity across college campuses — has left the university unable to defend the rights of all its students.
Their claims come amid a growing controversy at UC Davis, after a March talk by George Deek — an Arab Christian Israeli diplomat — was disrupted by pro-Palestinian protesters. As reported by The Algemeiner, after unfurling a large banner that read “1948=1492” across the room, the protesters chanted, among other anti-Israel slogans, “Long live the intifada.” Before exiting the room, they yelled “Allahu Akbar!”
Deek and the pro-Israel students present at his lecture were escorted out of the room by security guards to the safety of the nearby UC Davis Hillel. According to a witness who spoke with The Algemeiner at the time, some dozen uniformed police were inside the room and patrolling the immediate area, but did nothing to stop the demonstration.
In response to a letter by students and faculty expressing their upset over the Deek incident, then-provost and now current acting UC Davis chancellor, Ralph Hexter, called the demonstration “regrettable,” but defended the protesters’ actions as an expression of free speech protected under First Amendment rights. This same right, Hexter maintained, “also now prohibits the university from punishing them for their exercise of that right.”
Similarly, a memorandum published in May by the UC Davis Committee on Academic Freedom and Responsibility said that while it “unequivocally condemned” the Deek protest as an “assault on academic freedom,” it is “not clear…whether the disruptors can or should be punished by the administration.”
According to Aggies for Israel’s Nelson, “The administration’s weak response was due to a few factors, most prominent their fear of backlash from the protesters and being seen as ‘taking the wrong side.’” Despite clear guidelines and policies — such as the Regent’s UC Principles of Intolerance, which the administration informed Nelson were merely “aspirational statements” — the school is “reluctant to sanction student groups, namely SJP, MSU and JVP, who violate these ‘aspirational statements’ and even acknowledge their many incidents of disruption of Jewish and pro-Israel events,” he said.
Campus attitudes towards Israel and the Jewish community is “slowly deteriorating,” Nelson said, and the administration needs to “correct the behavior of these groups, otherwise it is seen as acceptable and encouraged.”
DFI’s Sokolow echoed this disappointment with UC Davis officials, and took issue with Hexter’s response to the protest, which, he said, “seems to emphasize the rights of demonstrators, while ignoring the rights of the speaker and audience.”
“Freedom of speech has been trampled on and ignored. The Deek disruption is just one instance of what seems to be a violation of university policies by anti-Israel groups regarding protecting speakers invited to campus by legitimate organizations,” he told The Algemeiner.
Rabin believes that the administration’s unwillingness to stand up for the rights of the pro-Israel community is because “the UC Davis administration, like most university administrations, wishes to avoid student demonstrations against the administration. This is its highest priority. Questions of free speech and academic freedom are also important to it, but of lower priority.”
Pro-Israel students and faculty, Rabin said, will not resort to using the violent tactics most frequently used by SJP and MSU. “They will not occupy university buildings, especially administration buildings, to further their viewpoint. From the administration’s’ viewpoint, it is therefore more important to placate anti-Israel students than pro-Israel students.”
Sokolow told The Algemeiner that DFI — alongside Aggies for Israel, the AMCHA Initiative, the Academic Exchange Network and the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law — is “putting together a strong argument, both legal and policy-aimed, to present to university officials for adoption and implementation that would prohibit the disruption of speakers that should apply across the board to all speakers.”
“I think the protesters of the Deek event were very clever, because they confined their disruption to only three-to-four minutes. They were relying on the argument that campus administration would say it wasn’t a very long, serious disruption, compared to those that took place at UC Irvine and Sacramento State, which basically shut down the entire event,” Sokolow said. “Our argument is that any disruption that stops a speaker, regardless of time, is a violation of the speaker’s and audience’s right.”
“This is about more than just having a policy, but implementing the policy, too,” Sokolow said. “The critical point is, what can an administration do to protect the rights of its students? They need to discipline those students who were involved and make efforts to stop future disruptions.”
A spokesperson from UC Davis denied any claims of bowing to pressure from anti-Israel groups, telling The Algemeiner on Tuesday:
At UC Davis we do acknowledge that there are many diverse experiences and viewpoints in our community and we do strive for a civil and respectful discussion of those views. However, the right to free expression is a cornerstone value of the University of California, protected by the US and California constitutions and university policy.
Aggies for Israel invited the public to this meeting through campus and community notices, so it was open to the community. The interruption began soon after the beginning of the meeting, lasted for a few minutes and then the group dispersed without incident. In advance of the event, the Aggies for Israel organizers recognized that there would most likely be protests and that they would be difficult to prevent. They worked closely with the UC Davis Police Department and UC Davis Administration to allow the protest to continue in order to prevent a confrontation. The Aggies for Israel organizers were confident that the protesters, having had the chance to express themselves, would leave the event, which in fact they did. The speaker was able to deliver his talk without further interruption. Some students who participated in the initial protest stayed for the meeting and asked questions during a question-and-answer portion of the lecture, which they were of course free to do.
Security was present at the meeting. The safety of our campus community is always our highest concern, and at no time did it appear that any physical altercations occurred. Based on the totality of circumstances, we think that this was the best way to handle the event. The Aggies for Israel President went on record saying he was satisfied with how the Administration supported Aggies for Israel.
UC Davis administrators have regular discussions with all of our student groups, including our Jewish students, to make sure our community is one where freedom of expression is upheld in an environment of respect and caring. The UC Principles Against Intolerance require us to respond promptly when discrimination and other forms of intolerance occur, and we did that by supporting the Aggies for Israel organizers throughout the event, and in response to letters from the community after the event.