Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), an anti-Israel student group at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) which defends Hamas and has alleged ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, has officially revved up its intimidation tactics against students who refuse to side with them in their Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.
Last week, the SJP asked UCLA’s Graduate Student Association (GSA) to rescind its policy prohibiting GSA members from taking sides in the Israeli-Palestinian Issue, accusing that the policy limits "free speech".
“By suggesting that the GSA could restrict funding based on any viewpoint it disfavors, or that the GSA has the power to bar funding to student groups based on their advocacy for Palestinian rights, it suggests that it could also bar funding to student groups advocating for any other political position it wishes, liberal or conservative, this year or in future years,” the SJP wrote. “This is not only unconstitutional, it casts a devastating chill over our campus environment and threatens to extinguish free speech on campus.”
In a letter to UCLA’s Chancellor Gene Block, co-signed by the Palestinian Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, and the Center for Constitutional Rights, the group demanded that the UCLA administration rescind the GSA’s policy and “remedy the chilling effect.”
The letter was sent after the Diversity Caucus, a student group for advocating for diversity, requested $2,000 from the GSA to hold a town hall on November 5 featuring Jerry Kang, UCLA’s vice chancellor of equity, diversity, and inclusion. The GSA president Milan Chaterjee said that his group would provide funds for the town hall but that it would deny the funds if the group was found to be involved in any way with movements or organizations related to divesting from Israel. He wrote in a letter:
Israel-Palestine politics is a highly sensitive topic. If GSA financially sponsors the Divest from Israel movement, we'll be alienating a substantial number of Bruins. The same would true if GSA sponsors any countermovement.
It's unfortunate that these organizations resorted to legal intimidation rather than respectful discourse.
I stand by GSA's decision to remain neutral in Israel-Palestine politics.
With Bruin Spirit,
Graduate Student Body President, UCLA
The SJP responded by sending a legal letter to Chatterjee demanding documentation proving the GSA’s neutrality policy and later claiming that the unwillingness of the student president to voice his opinions in the Israel-Palestinian issue represents a “lack of transparency” on his part.
Chaterjee responded by requesting legal counsel or reimbursement for legal assistance from the UCLA administration for the SJP’s intimidation tactics, in the Daily Bruin.
“I’m astonished that SJP did not find it necessary to engage in any conversation with the Graduate Student Association regarding their concerns and went straight to their lawyers,” Chaterjee wrote. “This “litigation first” strategy sets a dangerous precedent where if a student engages in an act that SJP doesn’t approve of, he or she will be subjected to legal intimidation.”
SJP graduate student leaders Rahim Kurwa and Yacoub Kureh responded yesterday by describing Chaterjee’s letter as being “worded poorly” and encouraging all graduate students to join them in overturning the GSA’s neutrality policy.
In a letter to the Bruin editor, GSA members expressed their dismay with the SJP yesterday for seeking legal council without approaching them first:
Out of respect to all Bruins, GSA sought to avoid the potentially divisive and controversial topic of Israel-Palestine politics. This sentiment was expressed to the Diversity Caucus, who accepted GSA’s terms and funding.
The Students for Justice in Palestine never engaged in any dialogue with GSA regarding their concerns with the town hall’s funding. If they did, GSA would have been more than willing to engage in an open and productive discussion with them. Instead, SJP chose to engage with Palestine Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights to issue a demand letter to the chancellor, after the town hall had already occurred.
This morning, UCLA columnist and SJP supporter Aram Ghoogasian, a liberal who generally does not emphasize the First Amendment, publicly demanded in the Bruin that Chaterjee resign from his post as GSA president and claimed that Chaterjee’s unwillingness to take sides in the Israel-divestment issue poses a threat to “free speech.”
Chaterjee responded in a press release:
Aram, SJP, and SJP’s lawyers should not bully student leaders but should instead ta.e their issues to the UCLA administration. Our position is not and has never been that students should not freely voice their beliefs and engage in dialogue. Any legitimate worries about the policies should be voiced and heard, but our efforts and decisions should not be misrepresented in the process.
Chaterjee told The Daily Wire that he does not plan on resigning and that he plans to serve out his term as GSA president.
“I've enjoyed the honor of serving the Bruin community,” he said. “My administration plans to implement a number of initiatives that'll make UCLA a better place.”