AMCHA’S Responses to Antisemitic Activity at University of California Irvine
4. Forty members of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) entered a Students Supporting Israel (SSI) event featuring five Israel Defense Forces (IDF) reservists and disrupted the event. The reservists and audience members had to be escorted out of the building by campus police for their safety. This is the fourth pro-Israel event in a row annually to be disrupted.
- INCIDENT: On May 10, 2017, forty members of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) entered a Students Supporting Israel (SSI) event featuring five Israel Defense Forces (IDF) reservists and broke into loud, sustained chants, purposely making it impossible for the event to continue. The reservists and audience members had to be escorted out of the building by campus police for their safety. A video excerpt of the disruption from footage by a UCI faculty member, can be viewed here. This was not an isolated incident. For four years in a row now, members of Students for Justice in Palestine and other anti-Zionist groups have intentionally and successfully disrupted a student-organized, pro-Israel event. These disruptions and attempted shut-downs of pro-Israel events were carefully planned by members of anti-Zionist student groups, particularly SJP, as part of an ideologically motivated campaign to suppress any and all Zionist or pro-Israel expression on campus. Two weeks after the incident, serious concerns were being raised by UC Irvine Hillel, Hillel International, Students Supporting Israel National and other organizations regarding the university’s slow handling of the investigation and lack of follow up.
- 6/14/17 – AMCHA’S RESPONSE: AMCHA Initiative organized a coalition letter of 53 groups to Chancellor Gillman. The letter noted UCI’s commitment to implementing the Regents Principles Against Intolerance after a disruption last year and emphasized, “Your failure to adequately address this most obvious case of intolerant behavior is deeply troubling and suggests that your plan for implementing the Regents’ Principles may also be inadequate. We therefore ask you to tell us how UCI’s current plan for implementing the Regents Principles Against Intolerance will adequately address the current incident and ensure that Jewish students, and all students, are protected now and in the future from intolerant behavior which denies them freedom of expression and the right to fully participate in campus life.”
- 6/14/17 – UNIVERSITY RESPONSE: Chancellor Gillman replied with a response that did not address the concerns in the letter stressing that, more than a month after the incident occurred, the “University is [still] conducting an investigation of possible violations of the code of student conduct arising from the May 10 event” and “it would be inappropriate for the university to interrupt the investigation or to announce a conclusion before all the facts are collected and assessed and due process procedures have been followed.”
- 6/14/17 – AMCHA’S RESPONSE: AMCHA Initiative replied to Chancellor Gillman stating, “Thank you for your response. Our organizations are understandably upset and concerned as the rights of Jewish and pro-Israel students are being repeatedly violated. However, please note this sentence in the final paragraph of the letter, which explains what our 50 organizations are hoping to hear from you: ‘We therefore ask you to tell us how UCI’s current plan for implementing the Regents Principles Against Intolerance will adequately address the current incident and ensure that Jewish students, and all students, are protected now and in the future from intolerant behavior which denies them freedom of expression and the right to fully participate in campus life.'”
- 8/22/17 – UNIVERSITY RESPONSE: UC Irvine disciplined Students for Justice in Palestine for disrupting the SSI event, giving the group disciplinary probation for two academic years. During that time, members must meet with the dean of students 12 times to discuss free speech issues and must also consult with a representative of the dean’s office before hosting or co-hosting any campus event. SJP appealed the decision.
- 9/12/17 – AMCHA’S RESPONSE: AMCHA Initiative organized a coalition letter signed by 54 groups commending Chancellor Gillman for taking disciplinary action to address the profoundly intolerant behavior of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) members that intentionally suppressed the freedom of speech, assembly and association of Jewish and pro-Israel students. The groups pressed Chancellor Gillman to implement a comprehensive plan at UCI to address intolerance and protect free speech.
3. Two events demonstrate the critical importance of promptly implementing the Regents statement at UC Irvine, including a massive disruption of a Students Supporting Israel movie screening (5/18/2016) and a speech by Neturei Karta’s Yisroel Dovid Weiss (5/4/2016).
- INCIDENT: On May 1, 2016, UCI Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) carried out a pre-meditated and violent disruption of an event hosted by Jewish and pro-Israel student groups. According to eyewitness accounts and video footage, an angry mob of more than 40 members of SJP and other affiliated organizations attempted to forcibly enter the room where 10 students were watching a documentary film about the IDF. Protesters pounded on the room’s door and windows and, for about an hour, screamed slogans that demonized and delegitimized Israel and called for and condoned terrorism against Jews, such as “Fuck Israel!”, “Intifada, Intifada, long live the Intifada!” and “When people are occupied, resistance is justified.” Event attendees were effectively held hostage for more than 45 minutes after their event had ended, until they could be safely escorted from the room by police. Prior to this incident, at a Muslim Student Union (MSU) and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) event on May 4, 2016 as part of “Anti-Zionism Week 2016,” virulently anti-Zionist Neturei Karta rabbi, Yisroel Dovid Weiss, made several remarks about Zionism and Zionists that employed classic anti-Semitic tropes. Weiss likened Zionism to “a Madoff scheme,” claimed Zionists have “billions and billions of dollars” and use their money to intimidate “the media” and “any politician who dares …to show too much sympathy for the Palestinian cause,” and stated that “newspapers are conglomerates that are owned or controlled by Zionist organizations.”
- 5/25/16 – AMCHA’S RESPONSE: AMCHA Initiative launched a coalition letter of 36 groups to Chancellor Gillman. The letter stated, “[r]ecent events…demonstrate the critical importance of promptly and comprehensively implementing the Regents statement at UC Irvine.” and asked Chancellor Gillman, “How do you plan to implement the Regents statement in addressing the alarming problem of anti-Semitic anti-Zionism that has created an intolerable campus climate for Jewish students at UC Irvine? Specifically, what rules, policies and procedures will you invoke or enact, and what educational initiatives will you establish, to ensure that anti-Jewish bigotry will be treated as promptly and vigorously as all other racial, ethnic or gender bigotry, and to guarantee the safety and well-being of Jewish students, and all students, at UC Irvine?”
- 5/25/16 – UNIVERSITY RESPONSE: Chancellor Gillman replied with a letter that did not address how he intends to implement the Regents’ Statement of Principles Against Intolerance.
- 6/2/16 – AMCHA’S RESPONSE: AMCHA Initiative organized a response letter from the 36 groups to Chancellor Gillman. The response letter reiterated our request that Chancellor Gillman specify the rules, policies and procedures he will enact and the educational initiatives he will establish to ensure antisemitism and antisemitic forms of anti-Zionism have no place at UC Irvine.
- 8/10/16 – UNIVERSITY RESPONSE: Chancellor Gillman released a statement to the campus community outlining the actions that the university will take to “ensure the full implementation of all elements of the Regents’ statement.”
- 8/16/16 – AMCHA’S RESPONSE: In response to Chancellor Gillman’s statement to the campus community outlining the actions that the university will take to “ensure the full implementation of all elements of the Regents’ statement,” AMCHA Initiative organized a thank you letter from the 36 groups to Chancellor Gillman. The letter commended Chancellor Gillman for his “leadership as the first UC chancellor to take pro-active steps towards implementing the Regents’ important statement.” The letter further stated that the groups “look forward to hearing in mid-October further details about how UC Irvine will make educating the campus community about anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism a priority, consistent with the Regents’ statement.”
- 10/13/16 – UNIVERSITY RESPONSE: Vice Provost Douglas Haynes released a report titled, “Higher Ground: The Alignment of UCI’s Policies, Principles, and Practices with the UC Regents’ Principles Against Intolerance” that outlines steps the campus can take towards implementation of the Regents’ statement including clarifying UCI’s “Free Speech Policy” specifically noting “disruptive actions and speech that infringe on constitutionally protected rights to education, speech and assembly.”
2. Two registered student groups – the Muslim Student Union and Students for Justice in Palestine—announced that on May 4-7, 2015, they will be hosting “Anti-Zionism Week 2015.”
- INCIDENT: Two UCI registered student organizations—the Muslim Student Union and Students for Justice in Palestine—have announced that on May 4-7, 2015, they will be hosting “Anti-Zionism Week 2015.” This is a week of events, speakers, discussions, displays and possibly street theater that are meant to create animosity towards Israel and anyone who supports it.
- 5/1/15 – AMCHA’S RESPONSE: AMCHA Initiative joined a coalition letter of 22 groups, initiated by Stand With Us, to UCI Chancellor Howard Gillman and UCI Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Thomas Parham. The letter explained, “Please be aware that many UCI students, faculty, and community members self-identify as Zionists. An “Anti-Zionism Week” will be offensive, divisive, and hurtful to them, and could create a hostile campus environment. If past years of anti-Zionism weeks offer any guidance, these events, individually and/or collectively, will in great likelihood include statements and create an atmosphere that is not only anti-Zionist but also anti-Semitic under the U.S. State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism…The very title of the upcoming “Anti-Zionist Week 2015” makes it crystal clear that the goal of the organizers is not simply to criticize Israeli policy or behavior, but rather to oppose the very existence of the Jewish state. Denying Jews their right to self-determination is at the heart of the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism. We urge you in the week ahead to monitor “Anti-Zionism Week” and identify any instances that fall under the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism. Should they occur, we urge you to publicly condemn such instances with the same vigor that the UCI Administration has shown when condemning other forms of racism and bigotry.”
1. UAW 2865 Releases Statement of Intent to Support Antisemitic BDS Movement and Bring Propaganda to Classroom
- INCIDENT: The 83-member joint council of UAW 2865 – representing all of the TA’s, tutors and readers at the 9 teaching campuses of the University of California –issued a statement outlining the union’s intent to support the anti-Israel and antisemitic Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, and to seek a full-membership vote on the statement this coming year. The nine teaching campuses include UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Irvine, UC Los Angeles, UC Merced, UC Riverside, UC Santa Barbara, UC Santa Cruz, and UC San Diego. In the statement, the union exclaimed the need to “educate” others on the “settler-colonial” and “apartheid” nature of the Jewish state.
- 8/12/14 – AMCHA’S RESPONSE: AMCHA Initiative coordinated a coalition letter to UC President Napolitano which included eleven other groups – Americans for Peace and Tolerance, Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, Hasbara Fellowships, Institute for Black Solidarity with Israel, Proclaiming Justice to the Nations, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, Simon Wiesenthal Center, StandWithUs, The Lawfare Project and Zionist Organization of America. The letter asked President Napolitano to ensure antisemitic propaganda and BDS are not brought into UC classrooms by the Union of Student Workers.
- 9/8/14 – UC SYSTEM, PROVOST DORR: Provost Dorr responds to the coalition with a letter, confirming that the “University’s position as to the conduct of ASE’s in the classroom is rooted in its academic policies, including the UC Regents Policy on Course Conduct, referenced in your letter.” The letter further states, “We will ask the campuses to remind all the ASE’s about these policies and their obligation to adhere to them.”
- 9/8/14 – UC SYSTEM, PROVOST DORR: Provost Dorr sends a letter to all 9 Chancellors, which states, “Attached is a letter from Tammi Benjamin, AMCHA Initiative, raising concerns about academic student employees (ASE) supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement in classrooms. In the last several weeks, we have received over a hundred emails similar to Ms. Benjamin’s. You may have received such inquiries as well. Since we have had queries from your campuses about this issue, I am writing to clarify that the University’s position as to the conduct of ASEs in the classroom is rooted in its academic policies, including the following…” The letter further listed the Policy on Course Content, Management and Academic Rights, Academic Freedom, and the Faculty Code of Conduct.
- 10/7/14 – AMCHA & COALITION THANK YOU LETTER RESPONSE: AMCHA and coalition respond to Provost Dorr’s positive actions with a letter expression gratitude, including stating, “We were very concerned that this would happen with UC teaching assistants, and are therefore grateful that you confirmed: “The University’s position as to the conduct of ASE’s in the classroom is rooted in its academic policies, including the UC Regents Policy on Course Content”. In addition, we greatly appreciate that you sent a letter notifying every UC Chancellor of the need to inform ASE’s that they are obligated to adhere to several university policies which prohibit them from using their instructional positions to promote political propaganda or advocacy, including the promotion of a boycott of Israel. These policies were established for a reason, and we appreciate your reminding the Chancellors to uphold them.”
- 12/8/14 – AMCHA & 21 ORGANIZATIONS PROACTIVELY WRITE UC PRESIDENT NAPOLITANO AND UC PROVOST DORR: Following the UAW 2865 Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) vote on December 4 2014, 22 education, civil rights and Jewish advocacy groups wrote to inquire of UC President Napolitano and UC Provost Dorr whether University of California (UC) policies that prohibit UAW 2865 graduate student instructors from promoting BDS and anti-Israel, and often anti-Semitic, propaganda in the classroom also apply to UC faculty.
- 12/11/14 – ASSEMBLYMEMBER BLOOM WRITES TO UC PRESIDENT NAPOLITANO: Out of concern for Jewish and pro-Israel students, Assemblymember Bloom sent a letter to UC President Napolitano and the UC Regents which stated in part: “I greatly appreciate that Provost Dorr took the time to explicity remind all chancellors that the Regents Policy on Course Content prohibits UAW graduate student instructors from promoting BDS and anti-Israel propaganda in the classroom. Earlier this week, in a letter authored by Tammi Benjamin of AMCHA, 22 education, civil rights and Jewish advocacy organizations wrote to you asking if the Regents Policy on Course Content also applies to UC faculty. I join in asking that question. The classroom must be a place where all views are welcomed and all students feel they can have a voice. The classroom should not be a soapbox for a professor’s political advocacy.”
- 12/18/14 – AMCHA & COALITION OF 21 ORGANIZATIONS WRITE 9 UC CHANCELLORS: Following the passage of the adoption of BDS by UAW 2865, AMCHA Initiative and 21 other education, civil rights and advocacy groups sent a letter to nine University of California (UC) Chancellors urging them to publicly state their commitment to upholding UC policies which prohibit academic student employees (ASEs) from using their instructional positions to promote a boycott of Israel. The letter concludes by stating, “We therefore call on each of you to issue a public statement affirming your commitment to strictly enforcing the Regents Policy on Course Content and to ensuring that Jewish and pro-Israel students have access to a safe and non-discriminatory learning environment.”
- 12/19/14 – UC SYSTEM, PROVOST DORR: In response to a letter sent from the AMCHA-led coalition of 22 groups on December 8, 2014 asking if the UC policies that prohibit UAW 2865 graduate student instructors from promoting BDS in the classroom also apply to UC faculty, Provost Dorr responded by stating, “I understand from your letter that you are concerned that UC faculty may promote the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement in the classroom and that you are seeking clarification as to whether the Regents Policy on Course Content applies to UC faculty members. In response to your question, the Regents Policy on Course Content does apply to UC faculty members.”
- 12/22/14 – AMCHA & COALITION OF 21 ORGANIZATIONS THANK PROVOST DORR: The AMCHA-led coalition thanked University of California (UC) Provost Aimee Dorr and UC administrators for protecting the well-bring of Jewish students, stating “Thank you very much for your response to our letter …We are…extremely grateful for your acknowledgement that the Regents Policy on Course Content, which prohibits the misuse of the classroom for the advance of partisan interests and political indoctrination, applies equally to graduate student instructors and faculty. We also appreciate that you copied all of the UC Chancellors on your response, and we hope that in light of your very clear statement, administrators on each campus will strictly enforce the Regents Policy on Course Content in the case of both graduate student instructors and faculty, thereby ensuring that all students — including Jewish and pro-Israel students — have access to a quality learning environment that is safe and non-discriminatory.”