Israel Advocates Slam UCLA, BDS-Supporting Campus Groups Over Leaked Report Condemning Student Leader for Neutrality on Palestinian Conflict
Pro-Israel advocacy groups expressed their outrage this week over a leaked confidential University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) report condemning a student government leader for his attempt to remain neutral on matters concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The American Jewish Committee (AJC) and the Israeli-American Nexus (IAX) said that the UCLA Discrimination Prevention Office (DPO) report is indicative of a larger anti-Israel atmosphere at the university. The report claimed that former Graduate Student Association (GSA) president Milan Chatterjee violated university policy on “viewpoint-neutral funding” in 2015, for initially refusing to fund any program organized by or featuring a pro-Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) group.
According to a statement released by AJC Los Angeles Regional Director Janna Weinstein Smith, “The confidential DPO report, and its apparent leaking to the media, is really an indictment of UCLA’s DPO, not Milan Chatterjee. The fact that a student official would be sanctioned for seeking to avoid embroiling the UCLA GSA in the fraught politics of the Middle East tells you all you need to know about the political agenda of his detractors and the cowardice of those that enable them.”
Smith said the leaking of the sealed report is “in clear violation of the Federal Educational Records Privacy Act” and highlights “that the anti-Israel crowd at UCLA is willing to play dirty, and even break the law, to demean the Jewish state and those who stand by it.”
The IAX also slammed UCLA administration for its treatment of Chatterjee, whom they say has been “targeted, harassed and defamed” over the last year. “It is very troubling when a public university sanctions a fair and balanced student leader for simply seeking to keep the UCLA GSA from being entangled in the complex issues of Middle East politics,” the group said in a statement. The leaking of the report is “a telling sign about the cowardly bias of a UCLA office that is meant to prevent exactly this kind of discrimination. We call on the UCLA Administration to immediately address this culture of bias, intimidation, and discrimination on campus, starting by apologizing to this courageous and thoughtful student leader.”
Two student groups, the Diversity Caucus and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), brought a complaint against Chatterjee, claiming he had discriminated against them for their beliefs. The Diversity Caucus requested funding from the GSA for a November 2015 town hall networking event, which featured 28 student organizations, one of them SJP.
In correspondence with the Diversity Caucus on October 16, 2015, Chatterjee reiterated the GSA’s unanimous “zero engagement/endorsement policy” towards supporting any BDS-related organizations, writing:
[I]f we are aware that the Diversity Caucus is engaging with any such [Divest from Israel] movement — directly or indirectly — in the organization of this event, we’ll have to withdraw or recoup our allocation. I know this isn’t the case, but I wanted to put our policy out there. Of course, we respect First Amendment rights of individual students. Nonetheless, GSA — as an organization — doesn’t want to sponsor/engage in this cause. Again, I know we are good here.
On October 19, 2015, the Diversity Caucus accepted GSA’s stipulations, writing in an email:
As an organization that aims to promote dialogue and conversations among individuals and organizations of various affiliations and backgrounds, we take a neutral stance. The Diversity Caucus does not have connections to the ‘Divest from Israel’ Organizations. To our knowledge, no organizations that are cosponsoring or assisting with organizing are affiliated with ‘Divest from Israel.’
On November 5, 2015, the Diversity Caucus held the town hall event with GSA funding and the attendance — but not direct involvement — of SJP.
In mid November, law groups ACLU and Palestine Legal wrote a letter on behalf of SJP, demanding a response from school administration and the removal of Chatterjee from his position as GSA president, arguing that SJP was singled out for its pro-Palestinian beliefs. This resulted in a months-long battle between Chatterjee, represented by his legal team, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), and UCLA officials and anti-Israel advocates.
The DPO concluded that Chatterjee “violated University policy requiring viewpoint neutrality,” and accused him of making up a “zero engagement/endorsement” policy.
In June, Chatterjee was honored by the AJC as the first-ever recipient of its Campus Courage Award, which honors students who have demonstrated unusual courage and moral clarity in standing up to antisemitism and the BDS movement.
“SJP, with the support of Palestine Legal and ACLU of Southern California, launched a vicious public relations and legal campaign against me, solely because my administration chose to remain neutral on the BDS issue,” Chatterjee said at the time. “Consequently, I gained first-hand exposure to how the BDS movement has created a hostile and unsafe campus climate at American universities. I especially empathize with my Jewish fellow students, who are being systematically harassed and bullied by this movement.”