Petition Denouncing Upcoming Anti-Zionist Conference at UCLA Passes 2,000 Signatures
A petition urging the University of California, Los Angeles to reconsider hosting an upcoming anti-Zionist conference surpassed 2,000 signatories on Friday, amid a continuing outcry against the event.
The online petition — launched by the campus branch of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) — says the eighth annual National Students for Justice in Palestine (NSJP), which was first announced in August, “is designed to instill hatred towards and intolerance while proliferating lies about Israel.”
The event marks the largest annual gathering of NSJP activists, who help promote the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel on North American university campuses — a campaign denounced by major Jewish organizations, and opposed by both UCLA and UC regents.
The conference will seek to remind students “that Zionism … can be destroyed,” according to its organizers, who define Zionism — the movement that supports the Jewish people’s right to national self-determination — as “ethnic cleansing, destruction, mass expulsion, apartheid, and death.”
These objectives have drawn criticism from the UCLA branch of Students Supporting Israel (SSI), as well as the groups Alums for Campus Fairness at UCLA and StandWithUs, all of which oppose the BDS campaign.
The three organizations have jointly encouraged supporters to ask UCLA Chancellor Gene Block to “strongly condemn” the conference “for promoting anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism and celebrating actions that violate free speech and academic freedom.”
They called on Block to affirm his commitment to the UC Principles Against Intolerance, which were passed in 2016, and reject “anti-Semitism, anti-semitic forms of anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination.”
The groups also requested clarification on what steps the school would take “to foster greater tolerance and protect the rights of all UCLA students,” along with increased cooperation “with Israel and its academic institutions” in the face of “rising efforts to isolate Jews, Israelis, and their supporters.”
Opposition to the conference was similarly raised at a UC Boards of Regent meeting at UCLA late last month, with an official with the Israeli-American Coalition for Action and a junior at UCLA each accusing SJP of glorifying convicted terrorists while demonizing Israel and — at times — Jews.
“Every year, SJP invites speakers with proven connections to terrorist organizations, such as Hamas,” said the student, Justin Feldman, who filed a criminal complaint with UCLA police in June after anti-Zionist protesters — including some members of SJP — forcefully disrupted an SSI event.
“Some are even convicted terrorists themselves, like Rasmea Odeh, who was convicted and jailed for the murder of two Israelis and many more wounded,” continued Feldman, who is also a fellow with CAMERA. “These are SJP’s role models. Does this sound like a human-rights conference to you?”
A regent at the meeting, Sherry Lansing, said she was concerned by the idea that the conference would be closed to the public — a possibility a university spokesperson could not confirm, as the conference “is in the early planning stages.”
“If the conference is not open to the entire campus community, it will not be eligible for University funding,” the spokesperson explained. “However, if the conference foregoes University funding, there is no systemwide or UCLA policy that would require the event to be open to the entire campus community.”
In a statement last month, the school noted that it “is bound by the First Amendment, which protects freedom of speech for each of the more than 1,200 registered student organizations on campus, regardless of whether the ideas they express are controversial or offensive.”
“Use of campus space by a student organization such as Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) does not mean that UCLA endorses the event or agrees with the views expressed by the event organizers,” the statement continued. “Especially in a university setting, controversial topics should be discussed thoughtfully and respectfully, free from demonization, insult or ethnic bias. UCLA holds participants at campus events organized by registered student groups to the standards of behavior set forth in the UCLA Student Code of Conduct and applicable laws, and is committed to ensuring the safety of all of our students.”