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November 15, 2018 1:04 pm

UCLA Student Leaders Back Upcoming SJP Conference, as Petition Calling for Cancellation Nears 35,000 Signatures

avatar by Shiri Moshe

UCLA’s Undergraduate Students Association Council meets on November 13, 2018. Photo: Ha’Am News.

Student leaders at the University of California, Los Angeles, endorsed a resolution on Tuesday affirming the right of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) to host its national conference on campus this weekend, as an online petition calling for the event’s cancellation neared 35,000 signatures.

The 11-person Undergraduate Students Association Council (USAC) passed the measure unanimously during a private vote, following a conversation with UCLA spokesperson Ricardo Vazquez about the university’s recent “cease and desist” letter to SJP, which objected to the group’s conference logo. The image initially featured the UCLA name alongside a bear flying a Palestinian kite — a symbol some construed as an endorsement of the kites Palestinian have been using to launch arson attacks against Israel in recent months.

While the logo was eventually amended to remove the UCLA name, some SJP students and others saw the incident as a case of administrative overreach.

“We found it to be completely inconsistent with the way other students organizations had been treated,” SJP member Gurutam Thockchom told the student-run Daily Bruin.

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USAC President Claire Fieldman also supported the resolution, even though she said that the content promoted at the SJP conference stands in opposition to her Jewish and Zionist identities.

“Do I support UCLA SJP’s right to host this conference? Yes,” Fieldman said in an email to the Daily Bruin. “Do I endorse its content and its implications for fellow members of the Jewish and pro-Israel communities on campus and off? No.”

The resolution further condemned Canary Mission — an anonymous website that tracks students and faculty who are alleged to encourage “hate” on campuses nationwide, particularly through activism related to the Israel-Palestinian conflict — as well as a measure recently passed by the Los Angeles City Council, which called for the SJP conference’s cancellation.

“SJP members have posted violent antisemitic rhetoric on social media, ranging from calling for the annihilation of the Jewish people, to the admiration of Adolf Hitler and hateful calls to ‘kill Jews,’ ‘kill all Zionists,’ and ‘let’s stuff some Jews in the oven,’” the city council resolution warned.

Yosef Nemanpour, a correspondent with UCLA’s Jewish magazine Ha’Am, noted that the resolution made no mention of the kite visible in SJP’s conference logo, which could have been seen as an endorsement of violence, nor of SJP’s forceful disruption of an event hosted by Students Supporting Israel (SSI) in May. At the time, protesters affiliated with SJP and the off-campus Revolutionary Communist Party tore down Armenian and Israeli flags, threw SSI materials onto the ground, and used bullhorns to chant slogans calling for the establishment of a Palestinian state in place of Israel.

“In the wake of that event, last year’s Council did not pass a resolution affirming Jewish Zionists’ right to free expression,” Nemanpour wrote.

The upcoming SJP conference has faced controversy since The Algemeiner first reported in August that it would be hosted at UCLA, with Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) writing in a letter to administrators last month that the group’s national gathering might violate university policy, as well as Title VI of the Civil Rights Act — a contention rejected by UCLA.

On Monday, UCLA Chancellor Gene Block expressed “fundamental disagreements” with SJP and acknowledged concerns raised over “anti-Semitic statements made by some SJP members around the country,” but said the group would nonetheless be allowed to hold its national conference on campus.

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