It’s Time to Hold Students for Justice in Palestine Accountable
Let’s talk about justice — a term that has been hijacked by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) over the course of its existence.
In the dictionary, justice is defined as “the quality of being just; righteousness, equitableness or moral rightness.” Students for Justice in Palestine, however, might have forgotten to look up that very important word when selecting the right title for the national organization. It seems that in SJP’s eyes, morality and righteousness mean disrupting events, shouting supportive statements of terror, such as “Long live the Intifada,” and calling for the ethnic cleansing of Jews by chanting, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” across college campuses in the United States.
When we speak about justice, or — more precisely — the lack of it, we have to acknowledge the bullying and intimidation strategies that SJP has been using against pro-Israel organizations on American campuses. And one particular university seems to hold the record for these kinds of incidents: the University of California at Irvine (UCI).
UCI’s troubled history goes way back to hosting Amir Abdel Malik Ali in 2006. Ali accuses the Jewish state of perpetrating a genocide against the Palestinian people (whose population has quadrupled since 1948); he has also called Israel the “Fourth Reich,” and has described Jews as the “New Nazis.”
In 2010, Arab and Palestinian activists disrupted a speech at UCI by then-Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren. This led to the arrest of 11 members of the Muslim Student Union (MSU). In response to this disruption, UCI suspended the chapter for a year — but in the long-term, nothing changed. Two years later, UCI’s student government became one of the first in the nation to pass a boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) resolution against Israel.
SJP has also helped organize “Israeli Apartheid Week” at UCI each spring and is a leader of the efforts to disrupt pro-Israel events on campus.
On May 18, 2016, for example, Students Supporting Israel (SSI) hosted a screening of the film Beneath the Helmet, which tells the stories of five IDF soldiers. SJP aggressively disrupted the event, and then blocked the exits and entrances. The pro-Israel students in the room had to be escorted out by the police. The day after the disruption, UCI Chancellor Gillman sent out an email stating that the incident had “crossed the line of civility.” In response, legal observers from the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) said that the “allegations against SJP at UCI” were part of a “larger concerted effort to intimidate and silence activists for Palestine.”
The NLG portrayed the SJP activists — who denied the rights of their fellow students to host events — as victims. But it is common sense that if students gathering for a peaceful assembly needed to be escorted out by police for their own safety, then the intimidated and silenced group might not be Students for Justice in Palestine.
Three months later, the UCI administration came out with a statement acknowledging that SJP had violated student conduct policies — but the Palestinian group was only given a written warning, which included a requirement for it to host an educational program.
A similar disruption took place last month, when the SJP once again disrupted an SSI event through organized chanting and other despicable behavior. For the second time in recent memory, pro-Israel students had to be escorted out by police out of concern for their safety.
As if SJP does not get enough attention on campus by spreading lies about Israel during their own series of events, they are now aggressively preventing pro-Israel voices from responding to their false accusations. If anything, this incident highlights that UCI’s written warnings issued to SJP have not been effective.
Whenever SJP disrupts a pro-Israel event, the immediate response by many is to claim that the group is merely exercising its First Amendment rights. But it is important to remember that its First Amendment rights cannot come at the expense of the First Amendment rights to free speech and free, peaceful assembly of other students and groups.
The SJP should not be given a free pass for its continuous harassment and intimidation. UCI must take the appropriate disciplinary measures against SJP — an organization that has violated free speech for too long on campus. The UCI community cannot tolerate pro-Israel students being escorted out of their own event for a third time in a row. It is high time that justice is served at UCI — and maybe then, Students for Justice in Palestine will finally see what that term really means.