March 31, 2020

Department of Education to Investigate UCLA Over SJP Conference

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) sent a letter to the Zachor Legal Institute on Jan. 3 that it will be investigating the institute’s complaint into UCLA over the November 2018 Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) conference.

Justin Feldman, the UCLA student who filed the complaint, told the Journal in a phone interview that he filed the complaint because the conference featured speakers that glorified terrorism and violence.

“This case … [is] about incitement to violence being exported to campuses all around the country,” Feldman said.

He also argued that myriad reports show that several groups with ties to terrorism fund SJP.

“If you want to have rightful advocacy for Palestinian self-determination on campus, you can,” Feldman said. “Just make sure it’s not affiliated with funding terror groups, and this is what we’re fighting against with this civil rights case.”

Marc Greendorfer, founder of the Zachor Legal Institute and one of the attorneys representing Feldman in the complaint, told the Journal in a phone interview that during the conference, Zachor received calls from pro-Israel students saying that SJP was doing “the same things that SJP does everywhere: delegitimize Israel, call Jewish students Nazis, etc.”

The complaint was filed shortly after the conference in 2018, Greendorfer said. He added that he hoped the complaint would result in protecting Jewish and pro-Israel students from hostile climates on college campuses.

“We would love to see UCLA begin to implement protective measures to make sure they vet any conference or other event that happens on campus,” Greendorfer said.

UCLA Associate Director of Media Relations Ricardo Vazquez said in a statement to the Journal, “That conference was exclusively sponsored by Students for Justice in Palestine, one of our 1,200 registered student groups — not the university. No public funds or student fees were used. As the University stated at the time, the use of campus facilities for the conference did not constitute a UCLA endorsement of the event, the speakers or the views expressed.”

He added: “UCLA is bound by and believes deeply in the First Amendment, which protects every student’s right to express his or her viewpoints, even ideas that are controversial or that the university does not support.”

However, Greendorfer argued that Zachor received documents through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) contradicting UCLA’s claim that it didn’t provide any funding to the conference. Greendorfer said that the documents, which the institute sent to the Department of Education, show that the conference received grants from the UCLA Office of Equity Diversity and Inclusion-backed Bruin Excellence and Transformation (BEST) program and received protection through campus security. Additionally, the documents show that conference promoters may have met with administrators to discuss the best ways to handle counter protesters, Greendorfer argued.

Greendorfer pointed the Journal to a document that he argued showed the conference as receiving funding from the BEST program, which describes itself on its website as cultivating “social justice leadership among campus activists.”

Greendorfer also pointed the Journal to an August 2018 email to Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Jerry Kang from a person whose name is blacked out asking for a meeting to discuss “proactive steps that students and the university can engage in to minimize and or counter the impacts of backlash.” In a subsequent email, Kang wrote to Special Assistant to the Vice Chancellor Jonathan Feingold that they’ll talk about it in the next day; Kang also wrote that he “didn’t know of any particular connection between SJP and BEST.” Greendorfer told the Journal that Zachor asked UCLA for further information on what was discussed regarding counter protesters but they haven’t received anything from the university on it.

Additionally, Greendorfer pointed to the below emails that he argued showed discussions of providing campus security as well as barricades for the SJP conference.

“UCLA clearly had their hands all over this,” Greendorfer said. “They say that they had nothing to do with it. That’s an absolute lie.”

Vazquez did not respond to the Journal’s follow-up requests for the comments regarding the documents by publication time. Kang declined to comment.

UPDATE: Vazquez said in a statement to the Journal on Feb. 14, “We would like to address our previous statement that no public funds were used for the SJP conference in 2018. To clarify, SJP did not receive any funds that were derived from compulsory, campus-based student fees. Expenses for police or security costs attributable to protest activities are not charged to event organizers. They are expenses the university incurs to ensure the safety of the campus community and compliance with our First Amendment obligations.”