Students for Justice in Palestine Finally Held Accountable

Modest step in the right direction by University of California, Irvine.

The rabidly anti-Semitic campus group known as "Students for Justice in Palestine" (SJP) has been conducting its own version of an intifada on college campuses for years. Its members do not just shout vile epithets claiming Israel is a “racist apartheid” state and worse. They harass college students who peacefully assemble on campus in support of Israel and disrupt discussion forums, preventing invited guests from speaking.

One recent example of SJP's unhinged behavior occurred at the University of California, Irvine, where an SJP chapter disrupted a peaceful event last May sponsored by a pro-Israeli student group, Students Supporting Israel. A delegation from "Reservists on Duty," an Israeli non-governmental organization dedicated to “countering and exposing” the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement, arrived at the campus to lead a panel discussion.  About 30 pro-Palestinian students from SJP entered the room during the question and answer portion of the program, but not for the purpose of asking questions or engaging in a reasonable debate. Instead, they disrupted the program, after having tried to prevent the Reservists on Duty delegates from even meeting with the pro-Israeli students who wanted to hear what the reservists had to say. According to a report in Arutz Sheva, one SJP member even spat on a female Israeli reservist. After investigating a complaint from the Israeli delegation and Students Supporting Israel, the UC Irvine Office of Academic Integrity and Student Conduct decided to discipline Students for Justice in Palestine for violating university policy. 

The discipline amounted to a slap on the wrist for SJP, but at least it evidenced the university’s willingness to begin confronting the hate group for its disruptive actions in violation of other students' rights of freedom of speech and assembly. SJP was placed on disciplinary probation for two academic years, ending June 16, 2019. During the probation period, the SJP chapter must abide by the university’s code of conduct, meet with the dean of students to discuss freedom of speech issues and consult in advance with the dean’s office before hosting or co-hosting an event of their own. SJP could face suspension or revocation of its status as a recognized campus organization if it violates university policy again.

“UCI welcomes all opinions and encourages a free exchange of ideas – in fact, we defend free speech as one of our bedrock principles as a public university,” according to a statement issued by the university. “Yet, we must protect everyone’s right to express themselves without disruption. This concept is clearly articulated in our policies and campus messaging. We will hold firm in enforcing it.”

Unfortunately, the university at Irvine had not always enforced its stated policy of defending free speech with meaningful discipline against infringers. Just a year before SJP disrupted the Reservists on Duty event, SJP had engaged in loud chanting to disrupt the screening of the film Beneath the Helmet, involving the stories of five IDF soldiers. SJP protesters were said to have intimidated pro-Israeli students seeking to leave the room where the film was being shown, forcing the police to escort the students out of harm’s way. While the university’s chancellor said the incident had “crossed the line of civility,” the university bowed to pressure from the National Lawyers Guild, which defended SJP activists as victims of “intimidation.” The university let SJP off with a warning and an educational assignment

Apparently, neither the warning nor the educational assignment had any positive effect on SJP. They returned to their disruptive tactics in May 2017. If the university had let the latest disruption go by with simply another warning, it would have made a mockery of its professed defense of the right of everyone’s right to free speech. Thus, the university took the next step of putting SJP on probation with some light conditions attached.  

SJP will not simply accept the consequences of its actions and try to reform its tactics to conform with the university’s policy of protecting “everyone’s right to express themselves without disruption.” To the contrary, just like the Palestinians themselves who commit acts of terror and then play the victim card when Israel responds, SJP is claiming that its own rights have been violated by the university’s decision. SJP filed an appeal, which will take several weeks to resolve.

“This decision by UCI is not about the facts or the law – it’s a politically motivated choice to curtail the speech activities of students who stand up for Palestinian rights,” claimed Liz Jackson, staff attorney with Palestine Legal. “This kind of institutional censorship is the real threat to free speech on campus, especially when it’s in response to pressure from groups representing a foreign military power and aiming to surveil and suppress student activities.”

SJP has also taken something else from the Palestinians’ playbook. Palestinian leaders have sought with some success to portray their terrorist acts as legitimate “resistance” in keeping with the world-wide struggle of the “oppressed” against the “oppressor’s” “racism” and “imperialism.” SJP uses similar language to align its cause against “the imperialist ideology of Zionism” with the “anti-racist,” “anti-fascist,” “anti-imperialist” rhetoric of the Left. It has done so recently in its attack on white supremacy following the Charlottesville tragedy. It has also aligned itself with the plight of illegal immigrants and anti-Trump activists, increasing its appeal to campus Leftists just in time for the new academic year. 

For example, the SJP Maryland chapter posted the following, hitting all the emotional buttons it could. It even claimed to support Jewish students who are the victims of neo-Nazism, before launching into the usual SJP attack on the Jewish state:

Since the election of Donald Trump (and for centuries prior), marginalized communities across the country have been victimized by hate crimes committed against them. Over the summer, from the lynching of Richard Collins on our own campus to the murder of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, white supremacy has continued to rear its ugly head. Unfortunately, our government has refused to properly address the crisis; instead, Donald Trump and his White House have continue with racist policies aimed at attacking marginalized communities.

We at Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) feel that white supremacy must be confronted by a unified coalition of social justice groups on our campus. We are prepared to fight alongside undocumented students for a sanctuary campus, alongside prison abolitionists for divestment from prisons, alongside Jewish students in opposition to Neo-Nazism, and alongside other communities targeted by hate groups in this country. As the University of Maryland SJP, in playing our part in confronting white supremacy, we ask that other social justice organizations and students join us in confronting the imperialist ideology of Zionism and the ongoing human rights atrocities committed against the Palestinian people.

Note how the SJP post equates “white supremacy” with “the imperialist ideology of Zionism and the ongoing human rights atrocities committed against the Palestinian people.” By extension, those pro-Israeli students and their invited guests from Israel who try to present Israel’s perspective must be “white supremacists,” “neo-Nazis,” and “racists” themselves, who deserve to be shouted down and prevented from speaking or listening to a pro-Israeli viewpoint.

Students for Justice in Palestine exists for one purpose. It is a hate group with the singular mission of undermining the legitimacy of the Jewish state through anti-Semitic demonization of Israel and its supporters. Its chapters host hatefests on campuses, including the “Israeli Apartheid Week.” Its rhetoric criticizing Israeli policies often give way quickly to hate speech denigrating Jews with anti-Semitic stereotypes. SJP members harass Jewish students on campuses, disrupt events where views are expressed that differ from SJP's anti-Israel talking points, and intimidate anyone who dares to speak in favor of Israel’s right to exist in peace and security.

The University of California, Irvine, has finally taken a modest step in the right direction by holding SJP accountable for its actions. As the new academic year begins, let’s hope that the university will stick to its principles and kick SJP off campus if it again violates the rights of free speech and assembly of those with whom it disagrees. Other colleges and universities must do the same.

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