Student organizations host rally demanding UCLA’s divestment from Israel
People participating in a rally to call for the UC to divest from companies associated with Israel are pictured. The protest, which was hosted by Students for Justice in Palestine alongside the UC Divest Coalition at UCLA, also contained chants and speeches. (Shane Yu/Daily Bruin staff)
Feb. 8, 2024 7:51 p.m.
This post was updated Feb. 8 at 10:44 p.m.
Students for Justice in Palestine and the UC Divest Coalition at UCLA held a rally Thursday calling on the university to divest from companies associated with Israel.
The event, which began at 2 p.m. in Bruin Plaza, featured chanting, speeches and a march across campus to Murphy Hall and back. Rally organizers handed out face masks to help protesters protect their identities and placed posters around a doorway at Murphy Hall calling for divestment.
Militant group and Palestinian political party Hamas attacked Israeli villages Oct. 7 and has continued attacks on the region since then, according to the Associated Press. In response, Israel launched a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip, as well as bombings and airstrikes, killing more than 27,000 Palestinians, according to AP.
At the rally, attendees chanted “Israel bombs, Gene Block pays, how many kids has he killed today?” “UCPD, KKK, IDF, you’re all the same,” and “UC, UC, you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide.”
Mohammad, a media liaison for SJP at UCLA who was granted partial anonymity for safety reasons, said the protest was held as part of a response to a national student day of action for divestment. They added that the rally, which was attended by around 100 people, aimed to call attention to the university’s association with organizations that invest in Israeli weapons manufacturers.
Saree Makdisi, chair and professor in the English department and member of UCLA Faculty for Justice in Palestine, said in a speech at the rally that student protests are important in bringing about change in the Gaza Strip. He added that he feels it is important to remember that individuals in the Gaza Strip are currently unable to be involved with student protests because of the destruction of Palestinian universities.
“I’m here to endorse the student movement that we see gathered before us,” Makdisi said. “A university without student protests would not be a university.”
Makdisi said in his speech that he thinks divestment is a successful method for bringing about change. He added that change is important because of the impact of the war on health care and education in the Gaza Strip. Mohammad added that students involved in calling for divestment in apartheid-era South Africa was one source of inspiration for SJP.
“(We are here) to show them that we will not stop raising our voices and discussing the nature of this genocide and showing the inherited nature of student organizations in formulating a basis for change,” they said.
A small number of counter-protesters also attended the rally, including a person holding an Israeli flag and heckling speakers outside of Murphy Hall. Although SJP has told rally attendees not to engage with counter-protesters in its guidelines, one speaker who did not give their name appeared to address them directly by insulting the physical characteristics of counter-protesters. Descriptions of physical characteristics are a common antisemitic trope, according to the Media Diversity Institute.
“Do you realize how Zionists, … they have that ugly, half-American, half-Zionist smiles?” they said in a speech, leading to shouts of agreement from the crowd.
The speaker also repeated insults at counter-protesters, even after being instructed not to engage with them by other organizers.
“They’re just losers who are colonizers and settlers, and they will be defeated,” they said in a speech. “They are stupid, annoying and ugly.”
However, most speakers and protesters at the event kept their focus on calling for divestment and to honor the loss of innocent lives.
One student, who was granted anonymity for safety reasons, said they attended the rally to keep awareness about the ongoing Israel-Hamas war high.
“As the death toll gets higher, people are getting more and more desensitized, and people are forgetting or moving on with their lives,” they said.
A Turkish Muslim law student, who was also granted anonymity for safety reasons, said they want to raise awareness about what is happening in Palestine. They added that they feel that their sense of humanity was the most important reason they decided to come to the protest.
“It’s about remembering what has happened to Palestine – 75 years of people have been killed,” they said. “This is an honorary action, too, to watch what’s already been done and committed, and also it’s preventative for what should not happen anymore.”
The event was also attended by UCLA Student Affairs representatives and other individuals claiming to provide security for the event. Speakers at the rally encouraged students to show their disapproval of student affairs monitors.
Mohammad also said they think the university’s time, place and manner guidelines for hosting on-campus events, which were mentioned in several speeches, are a violation of First Amendment rights, adding that they think following the policy is an impossible task for student organizations.
At the end of the rally, speakers also encouraged students to join member organizations of the UC Divest coalition and to protest at the UC Board of Regents meeting in March at UCLA.
“We can’t be proud of an institution that will continuously allow these killings and allow the destruction of educational pioneers in other places in the world,” Mohammad said. “We will continuously fight for Palestine.”