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Bruins in Paris

UC Divest Coalition at UCLA leads on-campus protest ahead of Gene Block testimony

Protesters march up Bruin Walk bearing a banner that reads, “UC invests $32,000,000,000 in genocide.” The Wednesday protest included speeches from student organizers and various union members. (Jeremy Chen/Photo editor)

By Anna Dai-Liu and Dylan Winward

May 22, 2024 6:41 p.m.

Around 200 protesters led by UCLA students and faculty marched on campus Wednesday afternoon condemning the UC’s unwillingness to divest from Israel and congressional scrutiny of pro-Palestine organizers’ activities.

The rally, which began at 2 p.m. in Bruin Plaza, included speeches from student and union organizers. Protesters marched to the Court of Sciences and Dickson Plaza – where the now-dismantled Palestine solidarity encampment had been located – chanting, “Biden, Biden, you’re a liar, we demand a ceasefire,” and “Gene Block, you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide.”

Chancellor Gene Block is scheduled to testify in front of a United States House of Representatives committee Thursday morning regarding antisemitism on campus and UCLA’s response to protests over the ongoing Israel-Hamas war. 

A speaker from the UC Divest Coalition at UCLA – which led the encampment alongside Students for Justice in Palestine at UCLA – denounced lawmakers’ requests to UCLA’s administration for recordings, documents and communications relating to the Palestine solidarity encampment and its organizers.

The speaker added that they believe Block has only offered “empty words of resolution” following the April 30 attack on the encampment by counter-protesters and the May 2 police-led sweep authorized by UCLA, as well as throughout the ongoing violence in the Gaza Strip since October.

“Tomorrow, Chancellor Block is going to be actively testifying in front of the Committee on Education (and the Workforce), and I guarantee you – he’s not going to be defending our movement. He’s not going to be defending our right to protest and our right to resistance,” they said. “He will be selling us out.”

The rally aimed to draw attention to Block’s upcoming testimony, said Vincent Doehr, a political science doctoral student and media liaison for UC Divest at UCLA. He added that he believes Block will mischaracterize the Palestine solidarity encampment as a threat to Jewish students and ignore the fact that Jewish encampment participants were also attacked by aggressors.

“He’s going to claim that the Jewish community on campus is a monolith,” he said.

Block’s written testimony to the committee references his Jewish identity and past experiences with antisemitism.

Lilah, an organizer with Jewish Voice for Peace – a member organization of the UC Divest Coalition at UCLA – who did not give their last name, said they were also concerned that Block’s testimony will ignore Jewish students who have participated in UC Divest protests. 

E.T., an undergraduate student who participated in Wednesday’s protest who only provided their initials, added that while they believe there has been a frightening rise in antisemitism on campus recently, they do not believe it is caused by the UC Divest movement. 

“If someone was openly antisemitic in our protest group, I’m sure we would immediately shame them and send them out because it’s not part of our message,” they said. “We want peace. We want the bombing to end, and obviously, we also have a lot of Jewish students here in our group that are advocating for a ceasefire.” 

Lilah also said she does not believe the Palestine solidarity encampment was antisemitic. 

“I have felt completely comfortable as a Jewish student in the encampment,” they said. “We also have a letter from many Jewish faculty saying that the claims that Jewish students were unsafe in the encampment are false, and that they actually went and visited the encampment themselves.”

The House Committee on Education and the Workforce had summoned Block to speak about alleged antisemitic incidents on campus.

A protester waves a Palestinian flag in the air as they stand across from Powell Library. (Jeremy Chen/Photo editor)

Doehr said the rally also attempted to draw attention to ongoing events in the Gaza Strip – such as those on Tuesday, when Israeli troops surrounded and shelled a hospital in Gaza, according to the Associated Press

“Today’s rally is to show how many students are outraged at the administration’s behavior and to refocus attention on what we’re actually here for, which is to support the cause of Palestine and to support continued press attention on the events on the ground in Gaza,” Doehr said.

While UCLA told faculty that it is negotiating with the UC Divest Coalition, Lilah said the university has not actually done so yet. Doehr also said the recent reassignment of UCPD Chief John Thomas was an insufficient step toward meeting the coalition’s demands surrounding policing.

Various union members also spoke in support of the rally. Julian de Gortari, a fourth-year electrical and computer engineering doctoral student, called on the leadership of United Auto Workers Local 4811 – which represents graduate and postdoctoral academic workers across the UC – to call a strike at UCLA in a speech. The union’s membership previously voted to authorize its leadership to call a stand-up strike at select campuses. The union called on UC Santa Cruz to begin striking Monday.

“We are now committed to striking as soon as possible, whether our leadership wants it or not,” said de Gortari, a member of the UAW reform caucus who ran for head steward during recent union elections. 

A UC Divest organizer announced during the rally that the coalition is hosting its own assembly May 29 to “expose” what they see as the UC’s compliance with U.S. military imperialism. Doehr said the protesters plan to continue pursuing their five demands, the most important of them being military divestment from Israel.

“We’re still firm on our demands,” he said. “We’ll be here until the five are met.”

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Anna Dai-Liu | Slot editor
Dai-Liu is a 2024-2025 slot editor and a News senior staff writer. She was previously the 2023-2024 science and health editor. Dai-Liu is a fourth-year comparative literature and neuroscience student from San Diego.
Dai-Liu is a 2024-2025 slot editor and a News senior staff writer. She was previously the 2023-2024 science and health editor. Dai-Liu is a fourth-year comparative literature and neuroscience student from San Diego.
Dylan Winward | News editor
Winward is the 2024-2025 News editor and an Arts, Copy, Photo, PRIME and Sports contributor. He was previously the 2023-2024 features and student life editor. Winward is a third-year English and statistics student from London in the United Kingdom.
Winward is the 2024-2025 News editor and an Arts, Copy, Photo, PRIME and Sports contributor. He was previously the 2023-2024 features and student life editor. Winward is a third-year English and statistics student from London in the United Kingdom.
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