Students had erected a mock wall – representing Israel’s barrier in the occupied West Bank – in the school’s Anteater Plaza and were handing out flyers with information about life under Israeli military rule. Student groups MEChA and the Black Student Union also volunteered to help.
On the first day, two of the soldiers carried Israeli flags and wore shirts identifying their support for the Israeli army, while the others disguised their intent: at least one person wore a traditional Palestinian checkered scarf, while others claimed to be from Palestinian cities and attempted to speak with the students in Arabic. Some feigned naivety about the issue, while secretly recording responses.
This tactic is reminiscent of Israeli soldiers who dress up as Palestinians – so-called mistaravim – in order to act as provocateurs at demonstrations or to carry out extrajudicial executions in the occupied West Bank.
The next day the group returned, this time they all wore clothes that more honestly identified who they were.
Over four days in total, the group of soldiers showed up to the mock wall. They hurled racial and gender insults while one woman aggressively filmed the activists’ faces and conversations.
They told Daniel Carnie, a member of Jewish Voice for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine, that he is “not a real Jew” and told him to take off his Jewish skullcap.
A 30 May letter to UC Irvine Chancellor Howard Gillman, signed by Palestine Legal attorney Liz Jackson on behalf of a coalition of civil rights groups, describes what happened at the mock wall.
According to the letter, when the students began a chant that compared Israel’s wall to the US wall at the Mexican border, one of the soldiers shouted, “We want the Mexicans!”
And when a Black student asked one of the hostile members of Reservists on Duty to leave, he called her an “18-year-old punk-ass bitch,” then followed her around shouting at her.
The letter alleges that a “male soldier taunted a female demonstrating at the wall in a sexually threatening tone, saying in Arabic, ‘You want me to stick it in you, don’t you.’”
“These soldiers do not just use propaganda, they use intimidation tactics like taking video footage,” Ghiyath Alazzah, a member of Students for Justice in Palestine at UC Irvine, wrote in an email to other SJP groups on the West Coast.
Alazzah also accused the soldiers of “using hidden microphones, attempting to incite to violence by using extremely racist and sexist obscenities in Arabic, English and Hebrew, and even going so far as to physically grab a student.”
“We are sending this email to you to warn you all that your campus may be targeted next,” Alazzah wrote.
Administrators watch passively
School administrators witnessed the confrontations, but did not intervene.
Dean of students Rameen Talesh was one of the administrators present during the week’s activities, according to Carnie and Alazzah.
Carnie told The Electronic Intifada that students asked Talesh to stop Reservists on Duty from harassing them, but Talesh said there was nothing he could do.
But advocates for the students say that the accumulation of racist speech and harassing behavior created an environment of intimidation that was grounds for the school to intervene.
“Here, there was overwhelming evidence that foreign military agents engaged in sustained harassment of Palestinian students, and other students of color perceived to be allies of Palestinian students,” Palestine Legal’s Jackson wrote to Chancellor Gillman.
Jackson alleges that the school violated its obligations under Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, as well as its own policies, by standing by passively: “Administrators cannot act with deliberate indifference to a hostile climate of severe or pervasive harassment targeting students based on their race or national origin.”
On the night of 10 May, Reservists on Duty held their panel discussion.
SJP members came to the event with the intent to ask challenging questions.
During the event, a woman who had been filming the students during the preceding days lunged at one of the students with her fists up, according to Carnie and Alazzah. She was restrained by an administrator and then the SJP students broke out into a chant before they were asked to leave.
Part of this altercation can be seen in the video above.
The next day, 11 May, Jackson’s letter states, the same woman who had nearly attacked a student, returned to Anteater Plaza and shoved a sign out of the hands of a student protester, hitting the student in the face with the sign.
According to Jackson, these two physical assaults were also grounds for intervention, yet administrators took no action.
Alazzah was informed on 16 May that his group was under investigation for allegedly disrupting the question-and-answer portion of the discussion with Reservists on Duty.
The university confirmed to the The Electronic Intifada that members of its staff were present during some of the week’s incidents. A spokesperson wrote that administrators are “reviewing reports of that week from all interested parties and will take action, as appropriate.”
A year of pressure
The investigation is taking place after a year of heavy pressure from Israel advocacy groups, including the Amcha Initiative, the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights, Hillel, StandWithUs and the Israeli consulate, to crack down on Palestine activism on campus.
On 30 May this year, Hillel of Orange County wrote to Chancellor Gillman.
Emphasizing that SJP and an earlier incarnation of the Palestine solidarity group have been investigated three times since 2010, the letter strongly suggests that the university’s disciplinary process had yet to be effective.
Last year, UC Irvine investigated SJP after students from several groups protested a film screening sponsored by pro-Israel organizations.
That investigation cleared SJP members of accusations they had harassed and intimidated participants, but found that it was “more likely than not” that the student protest outside the venue had generated enough noise to disrupt the viewing of a film about Israeli soldiers.
The students were given a warning and required to host an educational program. Israel advocacy groups expressed unhappiness that the penalty was not more severe.
Hillel also invoked a UC Irvine policy document titled “Higher Ground.”
Published in October 2016, after the university cleared SJP, “Higher Ground” attempts to integrate the UC Regents’ “principles against intolerance,” which were approved in March 2016.
The UC Regents is the governing body for the entire University of California system. The regents produced the “principles against intolerance” in response to heavy pressure from pro-Israel groups, which wanted the regents to adopt the controversial US State Department definition of anti-Semitism. That definition conflates criticism of Israel with anti-Jewish bigotry.
The UC Regents rejected that definition and removed a sentence equating anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism.
The “principles,” which are unenforceable themselves, did however specify a prohibition against “anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism” – a weaker formulation than Israel advocacy groups wanted.
But pro-Israel groups have since sought to use this formulation as a basis for going after Palestine activism.
UC Irvine’s “Higher Ground” document appears to be a direct capitulation to this agenda.
In an 18 July 2016 email to Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, co-founder of the anti-Palestinian and anti-Muslim group Amcha Initiative, UC Irvine’s associate chancellor Michael Arias, wrote: “Following up on your suggestions, Chancellor Gillman plans to ask [UC Irvine’s] Advisory Council on Campus Climate, Culture and Inclusion to undertake a review of existing policies to confirm they are consistent” with the “principles against intolerance.”
Arias promised Rossman-Benjamin the university would “revise as necessary” any of its policies.
The following month, Gillman asked Douglas M. Haynes, a university vice provost, to conduct the assessment.
In October, Haynes produced “Higher Ground,” which critics say reproduces the misperception that anti-Zionist activities exclude Jewish students.
According to Palestine Legal’s Jackson, the document “conflates anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, discards the UC’s commitment to free speech and excludes the interests of Palestinians and other vulnerable communities.”
After “Higher Ground” was published, the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights and StandWithUs, two Israel lobby groups that have spearheaded efforts to silence Palestine activism, wrote to Haynes to applaud the report.
They also sent Haynes a “white paper” supposedly meant to help UC Irvine understand and recognize “anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism.”
Their paper claims that anti-Semitism today is mostly expressed in “coded” ways, but points the administration back to the State Department’s definition as a guide. That controversial definition, which Israel lobby groups have urged institutions and governments around the world to adopt, claims that “demonizing” Israel, holding Israel to a “double standard” and “delegitimizing” Israel are forms of anti-Semitism.
It also alleges that “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination and denying Israel the right to exist” are anti-Semitic. This would potentially categorize advocacy for a one-state solution founded on equal rights in a democratic non-sectarian state that grants full citizenship to Israelis and Palestinians as a form of anti-Semitism.
On 6 June, Haynes responded to Jackson’s letter to Gillman. Haynes asserted that the administration’s priorities align with the “principles against intolerance.” Haynes’ letter also makes allusions to balancing students’ First Amendment rights while maintaining “safety and security” and enforcing “civil discourse.”
According to Haynes, the university is still “reviewing the May 10th incident,” presumably a reference to the Reservists on Duty panel.
Hold them accountable
Palestine Legal’s Liz Jackson believes UC Irvine does indeed have a discrimination problem, but it is students advocating for Palestinian rights who have been the targets.
According to Jackson, the harassment students faced from the Israeli soldiers “is just the latest example of UC Irvine’s discrimination problem.”
Jackson accuses the administration of “ignoring harassment complaints by Palestinian and other students of color, and meanwhile singling out these same students for discriminatory treatment because of their viewpoint in favor of Palestinian rights.”
Some of those students have filed a complaint asking the university to investigate the pervasive harassment they say they face based on race and national origin.
“We must hold UC Irvine accountable for this discrimination,” said Jackson.
Charlotte Silver is a reporter and Associate Editor of the Electronic Intifada. She has been reporting from Israel & Palestine since 2010.
Top photo: A video still shows a man wearing a Palestinian scarf and a T-shirt with Arabic. He was part of a group of Israeli soldiers harassing students at UC Irvine in May
Redressonline: Zionists snuff out free speech at UK universities
Stuart Littlewood writes in Redressonline.com
A fake anti-Semitism campaign masterminded by the usual Zionist suspects, their Israel lobby colleagues and their stooges in the corridors of power, continues to sweep across UK universities – and our political parties, especially shambolic and rudderless Labour.
Last month the University of Central Lancashire cancelled an event entitled “Debunking Misconceptions on Palestine and the Importance of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” (BDS) organised by the University’s Friends of Palestine Society. The university said it would contravene the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) new definition of what constitutes anti-Semitism and would therefore be unlawful. The event went ahead, off campus, at the premises of a local voluntary organisation.
Exeter University banned students from staging a re-enactment called Mock Checkpoint, in which some dressed up as Israeli occupation soldiers while others acted the part of Palestinians trying to go about their daily lives. The event was approved by the students’ guild but banned for “safety and security reasons” less than 48 hours before it was due to take place. An appeal was rejected.
The common understanding that the values of a liberal democracy are the foundation of society appears to have evaporated. (Craig Murray, former UK ambassador)
At Leeds University former British ambassador Craig Murray was asked by the trustees of the University Union to provide details of what he was going to say in his talk “Palestine/Israel: A Unitary Secular State or a Bantustan Solution” just 24 hours before he was due to speak. Craig reluctantly gave them an outline to allow the lecture to go ahead. He writes in his blog:
I have just been told by Leeds University Union I will not be allowed to speak unless I submit what I am going to say for pre-vetting.
I am truly appalled that such a gross restriction on freedom of speech should be imposed anywhere, let alone in a university where intellectual debate is meant to be an essential part of the learning experience. I really do not recognise today’s United Kingdom as the same society I grew up in. The common understanding that the values of a liberal democracy are the foundation of society appears to have evaporated.
Also at Leeds the student Palestine Solidarity Group was refused permission to mount a visual demonstration outside the Leeds Student Union Building or to have a stall inside.
At Liverpool Professor Michael Lavalette was contacted the day before he was due to speak with a demand that he sign the university’s “risk assessment” for the event. This included reading the controversial IHRA definition of anti-Semitism and agreeing with it. He emailed his response in which he carefully avoided mention of the dodgy definition and the meeting went ahead.
The University of Manchester allowed a series of talks marking Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) to go ahead, but only after several meetings and imposing strict conditions which the organisers called “unheard of…. other societies and groups do not face the same problems”. University authorities, however, vetoed the students’ choice of academic to chair an IAW event on BDS over concerns about her “neutrality”, and other speakers had to acknowledge the British government-endorsed definition of anti-Semitism.
Meanwhile, some reports say that a conference with the title “International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism”, to be held at University College Cork at the end of this month, has been cancelled thanks to pressure from Zionist groups.
“The Irish, it seems, are not as easily pushed around as the English”
StandWithUs Israel, in cahoots with Irish4Israel, claim the university has been persuaded to impose added security stipulations and other limitations that “amount to a de-facto cancelling of this hateful event”.
But these are desperation tactics. Checking with the organisers, I’m told the event is “100 per cent going ahead”. The Irish, it seems, are not as easily pushed around as the English. The conference, if you remember, was chased away from Southampton university two years ago by a similar campaign against free speech. The “official” reason, as usual, was security concerns.
Now comes the scandal of the 26-year-old Exeter student, noted for her work on anti-racism, being smeared by the Zionist inquisition for her pro-Palestinian activism.
She is accused of having tweeted two years ago: “If terrorism means protecting and defending my land, I am so proud to be called terrorist”.
So what? As everyone and his dog knows, or ought to know, the Palestinians are perfectly entitled, under international law, to take up arms and resist a brutal illegal occupier. As Malaka Mohammed herself says:
It may appear as a radical statement that could raise serious concerns at both the University of Exeter and its Students’ Guild. However, it is my honest belief, and as I will attempt to explain, these kind of statements by Palestinians in general, and me in this instance, are most commonly in response to efforts by Israel advocacy groups and the Israeli government to demonise and dehumanise Palestinians. This is done by using the emotive dog whistle by Israeli descriptors of “terrorist” and “terrorism” whenever referring to the “Arab” population. Palestinians who throw stones in response to Israeli soldiers invading their villages are labelled violent thugs, rioters and terrorists. Palestinians who non-violently protest the illegal occupation are portrayed as violent individuals who terrorise Israeli Jews. Practically any Palestinian who resists the Israeli occupation and its plethora of human rights violations, war crimes and serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law is stigmatised in this way.
After reading that, I dropped the vice-chancellor a line:
Sir Steve Smith, Vice-Chancellor University of Exeter
Dear Sir Steve,
I’m writing as a graduate of Exeter University with fond memories of the place, and because I’m shocked to see its good name besmirched by ludicrous accusations linking Palestinian PhD student Malaka Mohammed (aka Shwaikh) to anti-Semitism and supporting terrorism.
As an acknowledged international relations specialist you will know the score regarding Israel’s decades-long illegal occupation of the Palestinians’ homeland and its brutal subjugation and merciless dispossession of the Palestinian people. You will also, I imagine, understand who the true terrorists and anti-Semites are.
Lest we forget, the US defines terrorism as an activity that
(i) involves a violent act or an act dangerous to human life, property, or infrastructure; and
(ii) appears to be intended
– to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;
– to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or
– to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, kidnapping, or hostage-taking.
And the US has used this definition to terrorise and degrade individuals, groups and countries it doesn’t happen to like.
Ironically it’s a definition that fits the US administration itself – and the thuggish Israeli regime – like a glove.
I sincerely hope that amidst the flurry of investigations going on you will take steps to ensure that plucky Ms Mohammed/Schwaikh ceases to be victimised by tiresome Zionist inquisitors and is allowed to get on with her studies, and from now on free speech prevails across the beautiful Exeter campus.
Sir Steve is said to earn £400,000 a year according to this report. Perhaps he and many other university bosses need rousing from their plumptious comfort zone.
I’m with Craig Murray on this. I too don’t recognise our society today as the same one I grew up in. Who had the impudence to change our values regarding free speech?
RELATED ARTICLE: “Universities urged to crack down on anti-Semitism ahead of Israel Apartheid Week.” Camilla Turner wrote in the Telegraph that Baroness Ruth Dench (photo above) supported such censorship.