UCLA Hillel Executive Director Rabbi Aaron Lerner has had enough.
Following a May 17 protest on campus when Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) disrupted an “Indigenous Peoples” event organized by Students Supporting Israel (SSI), Lerner decided to take action and launch a fund for Israel programming.
On May 25, Lerner sent an email to UCLA Hillel supporters letting them know Hillel was establishing the Bruins for Israel Fund — “a tax deductible way for you to directly support student-led Israel programming.”
The Bruins for Israel Fund website states that those who donate are providing “vital funds that empower Jewish Bruins to advocate on behalf of Israel on campus.” It also says, “Through conferences, training programs, educational experiences, grant awards for research and travel, and missions to Israel, UCLA Hillel works with 2,000 students annually to empower, educate and engage and integrate Bruins into the Israel conversation.”
Lerner sent the letter after, he said, the May 17 disruption featured anti-Israel protesters who “blew whistles, chanted with megaphones, tore down flags, threw objects and surrounded students” at the “Indigenous Peoples Unite!” event.
“While we have seen this kind of intimidation, marginalization, vandalism, emotional and physical attack, and disregard for the students’ First Amendment rights on other campuses, it is a first for UCLA, and represents a serious escalation,” Lerner wrote. “It will not be tolerated.”
Lerner praised the UCLA administration for quickly responding to students’ concerns and actively investigating the matter.
“We will not stand down. We will insist on equal protection for Jewish and Israel-oriented leaders on our campus.” — Rabbi Aaron Lerner
“We will not stand down,” he wrote. “We will insist on equal protection for Jewish and Israel-oriented leaders on our campus. Together we will set a national precedent that there is a line which cannot be crossed without consequences.”
As the Journal reported last week, the group of pro-Palestinian protesters surrounded the students at the event with chants of “F— white supremacy!” and “Justice is our demand, there will be no peace on stolen land!” UCLA’s SSI has accused SJP of being involved in the protest, an allegation that SJP has denied, although it hasn’t condemned the disruption.
UCLA Vice Chancellors Jerry Kang and Monroe Gorden did, however, condemn the disruption in a May 24 piece for UCLA’s student newspaper, the Daily Bruin.
“UCLA is a university committed to freedom of expression as well as freedom of inquiry,” they wrote. “Even though such commitments require us to protect lawful protest, that does not include disruptions so severe that they effectively prevent speakers from reaching a willing audience. It is one thing to persuade through evidence and argument; it is quite another to interrupt with intimidation.”
Kang and Gorden noted that most of the disrupters were not involved with UCLA, and they would be referred to local prosecutors. Those who were involved with UCLA would be dealt with accordingly. They also wrote that the school would review and revise its guidelines to avoid future disruptions.
“Respectful dialogue is not synonymous with meekness or conformity,” Kang and Gorden concluded. “To the contrary, it is the ultimate in courage and integrity, requiring us not only to speak but also to listen. The panelists and organizers of the event showed such courage and integrity; the disrupters regrettably did not.”