Allegations against UC Irvine SJP members dismissed
The University of California Irvine (UCI) concluded its investigation of UCI’s Students for Justice in Palestine’s (SJP) participation in a campus protest last May.
A 58-page report released by UCI’s Office of Student Conduct sanctioned SJP students for violating the university’s policy against disruption, but deemed many of the allegations against them to be unfounded.
The three month investigation centered on a protest outside of a screening of the film “Beneath the Helmet,” hosted by Anteaters for Israel and Students Supporting Israel (SSI) on May 18. The documentary follows five young Israeli soldiers during their compulsory military service.
According to a press release by UCI’s SJP, its members were locked out of the film screening and began to protest outside the event with students from other student organizations. One of the allegations that was levied against the SJP members is that they blocked the entrance and exit of the room where the film screening was held. However, the Office of Student Conduct’s report found “it more likely than not” that it was someone inside the event who held the door closed, prohibiting demonstrators and others from entering the room.
The report concluded that SJP violated the university’s policy against disruption because “more likely than not” the chanting of the demonstrators prevented attendees from hearing the film. According to the report, the demonstration violated Student Conduct Policy 102.3 which prohibits the “Obstruction or disruption of teaching, research, administration, disciplinary procedures, or other University activities.”
Two sanctions were imposed on SJP due to the report’s finding; they received a warning and an order to host a “Power Mapping” educational meeting for the organization.
Dima Khalidi, director of Palestine Legal, said that she is concerned that the university policy that SJP was found to have violated can be interpreted differently depending on the situation.
“The disruption standard in the university’s policies is very vague and it’s really subject to different interpretations, and I think in this situation, and in other situations around the country the way that the Palestine advocacy is perceived is different from the way other advocacies, other student activism, is perceived,” Khalidi said.
In response to the conclusion of the investigation, SSI at UCI released a statement condemning the University for not taking greater action against SJP.
“After a three-month investigation conducted by the University into the incident in which students were harassed, trapped, and feared for their safety – the University concluded that their policies were violated, yet instead of taking meaningful action against SJP and their affiliates the University has opted toward a lukewarm warning followed by an ‘educational workshop’,” the statementreads.
Besides accusing SJP of blocking entrance into the film screening, SSI’s also alleges that protesters chased and terrified a student.
“The protesters blocked exits and tried to enter the room. They chased a student to another room where she was forced to hide. This student stated ‘I was terrified. There is no other word to describe how I felt,’ while these protestors shouted ‘Intifada, Intifada, Long Live the Intifada,’” the statement reads.
According to Julie Hartle, a student representative from the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) Student Chapter at UC Irvine, legal observers from NLG who were present during the demonstration “thought it was a very uneventful protest” and saw no evidence to corroborate SSI’s accusations.
“Our legal observers are there as impartial observers, they did not see anyone knocking on the windows, certainly not chasing anyone,” said Hartle. “The videos showed no evidence of that either, so as far as we can tell they’re just fabricated, they’re lies.”
The Office of Student Conduct’s report did not find it likely that a student was chased, or that SJP violated any other policies besides Student Conduct Policy 102.3.
The May 18 incident was first addressed by the University the day after the demonstration was held, when UCI Chancellor Howard Gillman sent out a campus-wide email.
“Last night, an incident occurred on campus that we believe crossed the line of civility, prompting me to re-emphasize our position on free speech, safety and mutual respect. The incident centered on a film-viewing event sponsored by Students Supporting Israel,” the email read. “A group of protesters reportedly disrupted the event, blocking exit paths. Participants feared for their safety, calling on our police force for assistance.”
Both Hartle and Khalidi criticized the chancellor for sending the email and accusing protesters of crossing “the line of civility,” before conducting an investigation and speaking with the legal observers.
“The university certainly, rushed to judgment here before an investigation could happen and they contributed to these false accusations being repeated and this is a serious problem with the way that universities are responding to these types of incidents around the country,” said Khalidi.
While Hartle believes that UCI’s response to allegations against students has improved from past incidents, she also criticized the University for singling out SJP in its investigation.
“The Students for Justice in Palestine were singled out over the other groups that they were with, because it was actually a coalition of student organizations, and yet they were singled out and they were the only ones that were brought in,” Hartle said.
Khalidi argued that the allegations against SJP at UCI are part of a larger “concerted effort” to intimidate and silence activists for Palestine.
“A big takeaway here is that the the efforts of Israel advocacy groups to undermine and to malign student activists for Palestinian rights are being consistently debunked,” Khalidi said. “With many other incidents we’ve seen, we’ve seen similar false accusations and we’ve seen universities expending huge resources investigating the claims and finding no basis for those accusations.”
Representatives of SSI were not not available for a phone interview by publication time.