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Submission: Failure to condemn Students for Justice in Palestine reveals administration’s indifference

By Justin Feldman

October 31, 2018 12:51 am

When students choose UCLA as their next home, they enroll in this reputable institution for a variety of reasons. One thing that separates UCLA from the competition is its bustling hub of successful, student-led organizations and how the campus centers itself around diverse expression, safety and legitimacy.

However, there are times when students’ actions can collectively hinder these campus values. As recently as May, the UCLA administration has reacted in such a way as to diminish these significant challenges of student life – a troubling indifference that continues even now.

On a May evening in Dodd Hall, two student groups, Students Supporting Israel and Bruins For Israel, hosted an event featuring a panel of three men representing three indigenous Middle Eastern communities and their intersecting struggles. This was an event meant to explore the issues of ethnic conflict, indigenous rights, national liberation, colonization of identity and historical revisionism of Kurdish, Armenian and Jewish identities.

But the event devolved into a destructive ruckus when the Students For Justice in Palestine instigated a deliberate attempt to shut it down with megaphones, whistles, loudspeakers and other disruptive devices. What became a well-documented fiasco was the disturbing behavior of some 30 individuals, some of whom were UCLA students, silencing the voices of minority students instead of engaging in positive conversations about the viewpoints they opposed.

The dismay of the Kurdish, Armenian and Israeli student communities, and those who share their heritage, was heightened by the inadequate response of the campus administration in conducting a transparent investigation or employing disciplinary action to address this misconduct. It was only after student panelists released reports and footage to the Daily Bruin and external anti-discrimination organizations, such as the Anti-Defamation League, that the administration felt enough backlash to vaguely condemn the offenses of affiliated SJP disruptors in a submission to The Bruin.

Furthermore, the administration would not hold the disruptors accountable under their provision for evident California law violations, including battery, vandalism, the shutting down of an organized campus event and premeditation to commit the aforementioned offenses, under California Title 11, Sections 403, 415 and 182. Affected student communities were forced to pursue legal action through UCPD to seek justice for these student voices, with an investigation currently pending.

Highlighting the diversity of our own campus means accepting that some student organizations will disagree on certain ideas and expressions of those ideas. Disagreement is a prized contribution in any developing intellectual center. Student-led groups on campus must share the responsibility of building diversity, equity and inclusion – as expected of UCLA’s faculty.

It is distinctly problematic, though, to coordinate coercive efforts to alienate, intimidate or censor students for their identities or because they have disagreeable opinions.

This brings to attention other previous incidents with SJP of UCLA. This includes the featuring of Roger Waters and Omar Barghouti, both controversially known to deny the right of Jews and Israelis to self-determination, labeling them as agents of capital and imperial greed, among other age-old anti-Semitic slanders.

Considering this history of SJP bullying, it’s troubling UCLA has granted SJP of UCLA not only impunity, but also a platform to host the annual National Students for Justice in Palestine Conference, which is set to take place on campus Nov. 16-18. The conference itself is self-reportedly closed to any individual who does not pre-register through an arduous process, which includes, according to an open letter to UCLA by Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), being “verified and vouched for by an SJP.”

Only recently has this conference, which shuts the doors on students with diverse views or backgrounds, been confirmed to uphold UCLA’s policy of requiring closed registration for private conferences be free of university funding. This stark issue was acknowledged three weeks after an inquiry on the policy from the University of California Board of Regents with a letter from Chancellor Gene Block.

Ultimately, UCLA has conducted no investigations, reported no disciplinary actions, announced no postponement and demonstrated little to no opposition to SJP’s actions and its effects on students on this campus. If there is any single message this conveys to Bruins, it is that hate speech, defamation and raucous disruptions are acceptable forms of student organizing.

Indigenous minority voices of the Middle East are a remote fragment of what is discussed in related academia, and the mere assembling of their voices at universities seems to stimulate controversy among students, especially for those who have held related prejudice or entitlement.

With or without administrative action, minority students at UCLA who have not been recognized for their experiences on campus will have to take action to combat intolerance and bigotry. Sadly, magnifying the voices of minority communities will once again have to come centrally from the marginalized students themselves.

Feldman is a third-year political science and Middle Eastern studies student.

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