The head of the Jewish campus organization Hillel International condemned anti-Israel protesters who “aggressively confronted and threatened” students attending a film screening at the University of California, Irvine last week.
“We cannot allow Jewish students to be intimidated, threatened or harassed when they exercise their rights to assemble for student programming. Hillel is committed to freedom of speech and freedom of expression for all students. This includes the students who peacefully gathered to watch a film yesterday,” Eric Fingerhut said in a statement following the incident.
The Orange County Register reported that members of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) gathered outside a room where students were watching a film in honor of Israel Peace Week on Wednesday evening. The protesters shouted profanities against Israel and campus police, and attempted to push their way inside the room.
“They were screaming. They tried to push open the door, but we were holding the door from the inside,” said Katrin Gendova, the president of Students Supporting Israel, which hosted the event. Gendova added that the screening was attended mostly by women, who felt trapped by the protesters. “They were disrupting our event. This is not freedom of speech. It’s harassment.”
Robert Petrosyan, chairman emeritus of UCI’s College Republicans, was in the area during the incident and told the Register that campus police were summoned to escort the women attending the film to their cars. He criticized the protesters, saying, “I found it egregious that they were creating a safety hazard by blocking the door.”
According to the Register, Israel Peace Week followed an “anti-Zionism week,” which was sponsored by groups including UCI’s Muslim Student Union earlier this month. The paper didn’t report of any disruptions to the events at “anti-Zionism week.”
UCI Chancellor Howard Gillman said in a campus-wide letter on Thursday that the anti-Israel protesters “crossed the line of civility.”
“While this university will protect freedom of speech, that right is not absolute … threats, harassment, incitement and defamatory speech are not protected. We must shelter everyone’s right to speak freely – without fear or intimidation – and allow events to proceed without disruption and potential danger,” Gillman stressed.
A video of the protest is embedded below.
While UCI’s chapter of SJP “expressed pride” in the protest on its Facebook page, it did not address the charges against them, Inside Higher Ed reported.
Jonathan Schanzer, vice president of research at Foundation of Defense of Democracies and a former Treasury official, testified before congress last month that leaders of now-defunct organizations that raised funds for Hamas have since “gravitated to a new organization called American Muslims for Palestine (AMP),” which is a major funder of SJP.
AMP provides speakers, training, printed materials, a so-called ‘Apartheid Wall,’ and grants to SJP activists. AMP even has a campus coordinator on staff whose job is to work directly with SJP and other pro-BDS campus groups across the country. According to an email it sent to subscribers, AMP spent $100,000 on campus activities in 2014 alone.
Jonathan Tobin, the senior online editor of Commentary, wrote in response to Schanzer’s testimony that students who support SJP and their campaign to boycott Israel “ought to wonder about the fact that their efforts are often being funded by a group staffed by veteran Islamists who support Hamas’ platform that aims at not merely destroying the state of Israel but massacring its population.”
A study published by the AMCHA Initiative in March found a strong correlation between the presence of anti-Zionist groups like SJP and the occurrence of anti-Semitic incidents on American college campuses. In its investigation of anti-Semitism on over 100 American universities, the report found that “57% of the schools with one or more active anti-Zionist student groups had one or more incidents that targeted Jewish students for harm, whereas only 8% of schools with no active anti-Zionist student groups had incidents that targeted Jewish students.”
In On Many Campuses Hate is Spelled SJP, which was published in the October 2014 issue of The Tower Magazine, Daniel Mael described SJP’s tactics and the threat it presents to Jewish and pro-Israel students on campus:
Instead of promoting justice, SJP and/or its members spend almost all of their energy demonizing Israel, advocating for its eventual destruction, showing an unfortunate affinity for pro-terrorist figures, bullying and intimidating pro-Israel and Jewish students with vicious and sometimes anti-Semitic rhetoric, and even at times engaging in physical violence. While SJP may pay lip-service to peaceful aims, their rhetoric and actions make it hard to avoid the conclusion that a culture of hatred permeates nearly everything the group does—making the college experience increasingly uncomfortable, at times even dangerous, for Jewish or pro-Israel students. Perhaps equally disturbing is the limited response from university authorities that have an obligation to prevent such attacks and protect Jewish students.
And the risk to Jewish and pro-Israel students appears to be growing. Indeed, unless college administrators take a more active role in preventing it, SJP has a good chance of achieving its goal of turning venomous hatred of Israel and bullying of Jews and non-Jewish supporters—with all the violence and fear that inevitably accompany it—into a legitimate and accepted tactic on North American campuses.
[Photo: Arlane Middel / Flickr ]