November 18, 2018

Protesters Disrupt UCLA SSI Event

A group of protesters from Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) disrupted a May 17 “Indigenous Peoples” event at UCLA organized by Students Supporting Israel (SSI).

A video posted on Facebook showed about 30 protesters surrounding the students toward the end of the event and launching into a series of chants that included: “Justice is our demand, there will be no peace on stolen land,” and “One, two, three, four, open up the prison doors; five, six, seven, eight, Israel is a terror state!”

The protesters eventually were escorted out of the event by security officers, prompting one of the protesters to claim that the university police were siding with “racists” and “terrorists.”

UCLA Hillel Executive Director Aaron Lerner condemned the protesters on Facebook, writing, “The intimidation, marginalization, vandalism, emotional and physical attacks, disregard for First Amendment rights, as well as noncompliance with police officers is absolutely unacceptable and a clear violation of True Bruin Values and the student code of conduct.”

He added, “We are incredibly proud of how our Jewish and pro-Israel students responded and have been working with them throughout the day to determine best steps forward. We encourage the University to fully investigate the incident and take all appropriate disciplinary action against students and groups responsible.”

UCLA SSI Chapter President Hirmand Sarafian told The Daily Bruin: “Many students felt physically unsafe because of the protest.” On its Facebook page, SSI denounced SJP for attempting to deny the students their right to free speech. SSI also condemned SJP for its chants that called for Israel’s destruction, and demanded SJP be reprimanded for its conduct and to issue an apology.

“SSI strongly and fully condemns SJP’s actions that threatened the safety and first amendment [sic] rights of those participating in and attending the event,” the statement read. “Every student has a right to free speech and freedom of expression, and SJP robbed us of these freedoms. No student should feel unsafe on their campus, have their identity challenged, or be subject to the violent and traumatizing events which took place on May 17th.”

UCLA Associate Director of Media Relations Ricardo Vazquez told the Journal in an email: “UCLA is deeply disappointed” with the disruption.

“This incident left many students feeling silenced and intimidated, and it dishonored UCLA’s commitment to the free and robust exchange of ideas,” Vazquez said. “University officials and police arrived on the scene promptly, and the disruption ended without physical injury. Campus officials are carefully reviewing the incident to determine precisely what happened, who among the protestors are affiliated with UCLA, and how to appropriately respond. While we respect the right to lawful protest, such protests cannot prevent speakers from communicating with a willing audience.”

UCLA professor Judea Pearl told the Journal in an email that the UC administration needs to “start naming the actual planners and perpetrators of incidents like Thursday’s disruption, including the pathological content of their Zionophobic tantrum.”

“The litmus test will be the word ‘Zionism,’ and whether the administration will publicly assure the community that Jewish students are welcome at UCLA, regardless of how strongly they feel about Zionism or other elements of their collective identity,” Pearl wrote. “Anything short of such public statement will amount to a tacit encouragement of the fascist tactics recently adopted by BDS and its cronies.”

Buran Aranki, an SJP member who helped organized the protest, told The Daily Bruin that the protesters were irked that the Palestinian side was not represented at the event.

“They say [the SSI event] is for indigenous people, but Palestinians are indigenous and have a right to their land,” Aranki said.

However, Sarafian told the Bruin that the event wasn’t meant to focus on the Israel/Palestine conflict and that the protesters weren’t interested in having a conversation about it after the event.

UCLA’s SJP told Campus Reform that they weren’t involved in the disruption but refused to condemn it. UCLA’s SSI told Campus Reform that they saw the leader of UCLA’s SJP, Robert Gardner, at the event.

The “Indigenous Peoples” event featured a panel of speakers from Armenian, Kurdish and Jewish backgrounds discussing the history and struggles of their respective peoples. Among the panelists was Dario Ouliguian, who is descended from an Armenian genocide denier and leads the Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies Student Advisory Board.