Tuesday, February 25

Submission: Protest at “Indigenous Peoples Unite” event limited free speech, on-campus safety

I am proud of the pro-Israel community at UCLA, and am extremely disappointed with those who protested Students Supporting Israel’s event, “Indigenous Peoples Unite.” It was uplifting to witness the maturity and steadfastness of the audience members and I have received notable support from the Israeli community at UCLA and beyond. However, it was disheartening to witness fellow UCLA students, some of whom I know personally, act in such a hostile, immature and inappropriate manner at the May 17 event.

Two weeks ago, I was asked to sit on a panel at “Indigenous Peoples Unite” as a member of the Armenian community. Midway through the event, as I was speaking about my connection to my homeland and why Armenia is important to me, a large group of anti-Israel protesters, most of whom were not UCLA students, crashed the event.

Immediately upon their arrival, an Armenian protester ripped the Armenian flag that was hanging behind me, grabbed my name marker, threw it on the floor and then verbally attacked me. In Armenian, he stated that I’m “not a real Armenian” because I was speaking at this event. He and other Armenian protesters then began berating me, asking why I was there, calling me crazy, a disgrace, dirty, shameful and repeating that I am a fake Armenian.

All this was happening while other protesters were blowing whistles, yelling into megaphones, throwing items and yelling inflammatory, hateful and destructive slogans that called for the end of the state of Israel – all to block the event from proceeding and drown out the panelists’ voices.

The protesters were asked twice by event attendees to stop behaving belligerently, and there were two attempts to invite them to have a constructive conversation instead of an immature yelling session. Unsurprisingly, both attempts were met with even more yelling, even more hate and even more noise. When I attempted to continue speaking about my connection to Armenia, I was met with chants against white supremacy. Again, my identity was misrepresented, misconstrued and spat upon.

I was then called an “Armenian Israeli” as if it was an insult. For the record, I am a proud Armenian-Lebanese. Those are two very different identifications.

The spectacle that ensued that night caused some students to leave the room in tears, scared and frustrated by what they had witnessed. This was far from a peaceful protest. Peace was not in the vocabulary of these disruptors, except for when they chanted “no peace on stolen land,” further insinuating their desire for the end of Israel and a complete disregard for the people who have to live in the conflict and want nothing more than peace.

Both my First Amendment right and my right to feel safe on my own campus were infringed upon that night.

Regardless of your background, questioning and delegitimatizing someone’s identity is never acceptable. Regardless of your politics, limiting the free speech of fellow students and guests is never justified. Regardless of your beliefs, infringing upon students’ right to feel safe on their own campus is never admissible.

I hope that we, as UCLA students, learn from this ordeal, and recognize that we are all students who are here to learn. We cannot effectively learn through hate and violence, but rather through respect and dialogue.

Ouliguian is a second-year linguistics student.

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  • Publius

    “Both my First Amendment right and my right to feel safe on my own campus were infringed upon that night.”

    Private citizens are literally incapable of infringing on your constitutional rights. There’s a fundamental misunderstanding of the scope of the U.S. Constitution anytime someone conflates an explicit constitutional right and a simple principle, such as free speech. Your free speech rights may have been infringed, but only government is capable of infringing on your First Amendment free speech rights. There is no such thing as First Amendment rights between private citizens.