October 20, 2019

UCLA Confirms Hosting of National SJP Conference

Photo from Flickr.

After being initially unsure if they were hosting the National Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) conference in November, UCLA has confirmed to the Journal that they are in fact hosting the conference.

In a statement sent to the Journal via email, UCLA Associate Director of Media Relations and Public Outreach Ricardo Vazquez wrote:

“As a public university, UCLA 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. For example, UCLA and the University of California Regents continue to firmly oppose boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel.

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.

In addition to a vibrant Jewish life, for which UCLA was recently praised by the Forward newspaper as the #1 campus for Jewish life on the West Coast and #3 in the nation, we are proud of the intellectual and cultural links UC, including UCLA’s Center for Israeli Studies, maintains with Israel. Israeli speakers regularly visit campus and UCLA schools, departments and institutes maintain active student and faculty exchange programs with Israeli institutions.”

The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) started a petition calling on UCLA to reverse their decision.

“Despite the notorious anti-Semitic rhetoric used by this group, UCLA is facilitating the conference by hosting the three-day summit on its campus,” the petition states. “SJP’s conference is designed to instill hatred towards and intolerance while proliferating lies about Israel. SJP creates an unsafe campus environment for students regardless of their nationality, ethnicity, political affiliations, or religious beliefs, but disproportionately affects Jewish students.”

The petition cited an SJP member threatening to physical harm Zionists on campus at Stanford and the disruption of a UCLA Students Supporting Israel (SSI) event in May as examples.

“We urge UCLA to reconsider allowing itself to be a platform for SJP, which is built on pillars of racism, lies, intimidation, and bigotry,” the petition concludes.

Jonathan Harris, executive director for the Israeli-American Council (IAC) for Action, said in a press release that SJP “encourages discrimination against Israelis based on their nationality.”

“It doesn’t take a genius to connect the dots: this group encourages anti-Semitism,” Harris said. “This conference for hate threatens the 10,000 Jewish students currently at UCLA. The UCLA leadership should be ashamed for hosting this vile, hateful group.”

Before the decision was official, UCLA Chancellor Professor of Computer Science Judea Pearl sent a letter to Vice Chancellors Monroe Gorden and Maria Blandizzi that read in part:

The organization in question as a matter of its own policies violates university protocols and hampers free speech of others as a strategy.  Thus, for example, the Conference description, as posted on the SJP website, states with pride of accomplishment:

“Other instances of our perseverance include disruptions
     of pro-war, Zionist, and racist guest speakers”

SJP is here boasting about, and suggesting a continuation of the disruptive tactics it adopted in the past  year. (Among other things, statements such as these constitute evidence of the organization’s encouragement of and involvement in the May 17 disruption that should be relevant in the ongoing investigation.)  Statements such as these also border on incitement to violence and should be seen as encouraging violation of the university code of conduct, as well as the norms of civil discourse UCLA aspires to achieve on our campus. Allowing the National SJP Conference to be held at UCLA in the current environment, with these disruptive free speech/violating tactics having been recently used and still being advocated by their organization will be interpreted by many as condoning rather than condemning and prohibiting the use of such reprehensible tactics.

This organization which attacks Zionism as racism itself uses the most racist and vile language and violates the basic norms of civility on campus.  It is a destructive organization that is committed to sowing discord and uses the campus as a locale to advance its radical political aims which is not a negotiated and peaceful settlement of an historic conflict but rather the de-legitimatization and the destruction of the State of Israel.