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Submission: SJP uninvolved in controversy surrounding Rachel Beyda’s appointment

By Omar Zahzah and Rahim Kurwa

March 17, 2015, 3:12 am

Students for Justice in Palestine at UCLA would like to correct some mischaracterizations about our organization that have surfaced in campus discourse and the work of outside publications reporting on internal student government issues, specifically in regards to the offensive Judicial Board interview of Rachel Beyda. Some individuals, both from the outside media and within the UCLA campus, have suggested that SJP may have been involved with this incident, and while we have already made this point, we are once again writing to explicitly clarify that SJP was not involved in, had no knowledge of, and would not support the questioning of Beyda or anyone else based on their identity.

Despite SJP’s condemnation of the Rachel Beyda incident, we are dismayed to see various media outlets from Fox News to The New York Times connect this incident to SJP’s efforts to educate and advocate in support of Palestinian rights. SJP members continue to receive messages from curious reporters and incensed students asking if we were involved in any way with the questioning of Beyda. Publications that stop short of blaming SJP outright for Beyda’s interview still portray SJP as somehow complicit by arguing that support for Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions creates a hostile and unsafe campus climate that encourages discrimination.

These assertions ignore all of our efforts to conduct our campaigns and debate the issue of divestment in an inclusive, transparent and accessible manner. Our town hall, willingness to compromise on the divestment resolution’s language and open letters to the pro-Israel community show how much we worked to ensure that the debate on this issue was carried out by two sides that respected each other despite political differences precisely the opposite of creating a hostile climate. And, lest we forget, the accusation that pro-Palestine activism invariably creates an unsafe and discriminatory campus climate is essentially the same argument made by the widely rebuked campus climate reports and HR 35, each of which sought to connect activism critical of Israeli policy with anti-Semitism. The U.S. Department of Education has emphatically determined that Palestine solidarity activism on campus is not discrimination, but is protected speech. The department rejected four different complaints alleging that Palestine advocacy created an anti-Semitic environment on university campuses.

All of this goes to show that support for Palestinian equality and opposition to all forms of bigotry, including anti-Semitism, are compatible positions. As we have stated time and time again, SJP is an organization opposed to discrimination. We believe in the inherent equality and right to freedom for all people, a stance that inspires us to both support the Palestinian call for BDS as well as to oppose incidents like that which befell Beyda. These are the principles that led 30 student groups from across campus to endorse divestment from companies that profit off of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories and which led a bipartisan group of council members, including independents and a member of Bruins United, to vote yes on that resolution.

We support the Palestinian call for solidarity precisely because we believe that no one, Palestinian or otherwise, should ever be denied an opportunity based on their religion or ethnicity. It is for these reasons that we take issue with the idea that support for Palestinian freedom and BDS by extension means the denial of freedom to others. Yes, we are students, and we do make mistakes. But we are not responsible for the Beyda incident, and to attempt to discredit our work because of events outside of our control is beneath the dignity of this campus. As an organization that bases its work on a position of solidarity with all oppressed peoples, we hope that future coverage of this issue will reject such a conflation.

Kurwa is a graduate student in sociology and a member of Students for Justice in Palestine at UCLA. Zahzah is a graduate student in comparative literature and the president of SJP at UCLA.

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