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August 22, 2016 2:23 pm

‘Slap on Wrist’ of Violent Anti-Israel Student Protesters at UC Irvine ‘Feckless Punishment,’ Say Campus, Legal Groups

avatar by Lea Speyer

Photo: UC Irvine.

The UC Irvine campus. Photo: UC Irvine.

The heads of major campus groups told The Algemeiner on Monday that they are outraged by the mild response of the University of California, Irvine (UCI) to the violent behavior of an anti-Israel student organization on its campus.

Referring to a letter sent late last week by UCI’s vice chancellor of student affairs criticizing Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) for “disrupting” a pro-Israel event, Ilan Sinelnikov, founder and president of Students Supporting Israel (SSI) — whose UCI chapter was the target of SJP’s violent protest in May — said, “UCI has turned its back on the Jewish and pro-Israel campus community.”

He continued, “On the one hand, the school writes that SJP broke the student code of conduct. On the other hand, the punishment is no more than a written warning and that SJP needs to host an ‘educational event.’ SSI and many other pro-Israel groups that worked with the university during its investigation believed the school would come up with just and fair results.”

Roz Rothstein, CEO and co-founder of Israel advocacy group StandWithUs, expressed “disappointment that SJP is not facing more serious consequences” from the university.

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“This is not the first time anti-Israel extremists have attempted to shut down free speech at UCI, and we hope to see a no tolerance policy for this kind of behavior this year,” she told The Algemeiner. “UCI was the first university to publicly commit itself to implementing the UC Regents Principles Against Intolerance, and we hope to see greater accountability for racism and anti-Israel extremism going forward.”

Aron Hier, director of Campus Outreach for the human rights organization the Simon Wiesenthal Center, called UCI’s written reprimand to SJP “a completely feckless ‘punishment.’”

“The university’s message here is clear,” he told The Algemeiner. “Pro-Israel free speech deserves less First Amendment protection than other forms of free speech.”

Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, the head of campus watchdog group the AMCHA Initiative, questioned whether UCI’s punishment of SJP “is consistent with disciplinary measures that would be handed down to members of any registered student organization that had engaged in similar acts of harassment, intimidation, bullying and suppression of speech directed against any other racial, ethnic or gender group on campus.”

Antisemitism expert Kenneth L. Marcus — president and general counsel of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law — told The Algemeiner his organization is “glad that UCI has finally acknowledged that SJP’s disruptive behavior violates University of California policies.” Nevertheless, he said, the letter of warning that was the upshot of the investigation is “an insult to the victims of SJP’s activities and to the entire Jewish community.” UCI administrators “need to do more than…apply slaps on the wrist,” he said.

In a joint statement provided to The Algemeiner by Hillel International, Orange County Hillel and the Rose Project of Jewish Federation and Family Services, the groups said that while acknowledging SJP’s violation is “a step in the right direction…further action is needed to ensure Jewish students are protected and afforded the right to free speech and assembly, and to make clear that efforts to thwart those freedoms by groups or individuals will not be tolerated.”

UCI’s decision was reached following a drawn out investigation after, as reported by The Algemeiner, SJP and other anti-Israel student groups at UCI violently demonstrated against a SSI event featuring IDF veterans and the screening of a movie about the Israeli army.

The UCI investigation found SJP in violation of university policy, which included “obstruction or disruption of teaching, research, administration, disciplinary procedures, or other University activities.” SJP was issued a written warning and ordered to host an educational program by November 2016.

According to reports at the time, the protesters blockaded attendees and shouted slogans like, “Long live the intifada,” “f*** the police,” “displacing people since ’48 / there’s nothing here to celebrate,” and “all white people need to die.” One female student was forced to take refuge inside a nearby building. Police were eventually called in, but the protest was allowed to continue.

In July, as reported by The Algemeiner, UCI’s chapter of SJP came under investigation by the Orange County District Attorney’s office to determine whether the protesters’ behavior was criminal. The DA’s office concluded that SJP did not engage in any criminal wrongdoing.

The results of UCI’s investigation come on the heels of an AMCHA report, which found a dramatic rise in attacks against Jewish and pro-Israel students across more than 100 US college campuses between January and June 2016. According to the report’s findings, antisemitic incidents on college campuses increased by 45 percent as compared with the same time period in 2015.

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