Students for Justice in Palestine filed an appeal with UC Irvine yesterday after administrators sanctioned the group for disrupting a speaking event with Israeli soldiers in May. Back then, activists built a mock apartheid wall on campus to raise awareness during "Anti-Zionism Week." Pro-Palestinians students complained that a visiting group of Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers harassed them and conducted surveillance of their activities.
"It was terrifying to see IDF soldiers on campus filming us in our faces, calling Palestinian students terrorists and making racist and misogynist comments to us," said Muneira Hoballah, a grad student, in a Palestine Legal press release at the time. The tensions on campus erupted during a "Reservists on Duty" panel discussion on May 10. After heated exchanges during the question and answer session, a woman with the IDF entourage got in the face of a student before being separated. Witnesses claim she assaulted him.
We are students!," a woman yelled. "Why is a military attacking students!" Attendants had to be escorted out by campus police afterward.
Pro-Israeli groups pressed UCI administrators this summer to take action against SJP, alleging students to have acted in violation of school policies. Students Supporting Israel, StandWithUs and the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law sent a letter on July 6 to Anteater Chancellor Howard Gillman demanding accountability. The groups even called for misdemeanor charges against the students for disturbing a public meeting.
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UCI admins responded by sanctioning SJP on August 22 for "disruption" and put strict terms on their campus organizing. The student group is now under a two-year probationary period. Its members have to attend 12 mandatory meetings on free speech as well as meet with admins two weeks before putting on any events. Any violation during SJP's probation could lead to the group being suspended or banned.
"It's outrageous that the university is punishing us, students, instead of protecting us from aggressive foreign military agents on campus," says Daniel Carnie, a Jewish student at UCI, in press statement. He's also one of the students claiming IDF soldiers targeted them. "We started chanting in response to a member of the soldiers' group lunging toward a Palestinian student, waiving her hands, screaming and shoving another student before being physically restrained."
Being sanctioned is nothing new for SJP. They faced similar punishment for protesting a screening of the pro-IDF film Beneath the Helmet: From High School to the Home Front after being denied entrance to the on-campus venue hosting the event last year. The probationary period ended in March before the student group got slapped with another, lengthier disciplinary action. And, of course, there's the "Irvine 11" case where the Orange County District Attorney's office gained convictions against ten Muslim Student Union members for disrupting a February 2010 speech by then Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren that came a year after Israel's Operation Cast Lead, a war that killed nearly 1,500 Palestinians in Gaza.
"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," says Liz Jackson, Palestine Legal Staff Attorney, in a press statement. "It's clearly UCI that needs the lesson in free speech, not the students."