Over the past year, the global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement has turned the UCLA campus into an intense battleground over Israel’s legitimacy and public image. The local chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), an active supporter of BDS, has waged an ever-escalating ideological assault on Israel, pro-Israel organizations and any students who dare to associate themselves with the pro-Israel community. However, there are clear signs that the SJP’s intimidation tactics are either failing or backfiring severely.
SJP’s hate campaign at UCLA began this year with the introduction and promotion of a student government resolution to divest from companies doing business with Israel. They did so under the pretense of human rights and overstated criticism of Israeli policies, but in practice their efforts were characterized by hate speech, deceit and active silencing of the Jewish, pro-Israel community. They sponsored a speech in January by BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti, in which he demonized Israel and denied Jewish peoplehood and rights to self-determination. He even employed a modern-day blood libel, accusing Israeli soldiers of shooting Palestinians for sport. During the student government debate, numerous pro-divestment speakers made libelous, hateful statements about Israel and pro-Israel students at UCLA. Even though the resolution was defeated in February, many students were left feeling that their identity and community were under attack.
But SJP was far from finished. As student government election season kicked off in early May, SJP launched a multi-faceted smear campaign against student representatives and candidates who had opposed divestment. First, they submitted a “conflict of interest” complaint to the student judicial board, claiming that two current members of the student government should not have voted on divestment because they had taken educational trips to Israel sponsored by the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League. One of the students targeted was running for president, so it was evident that SJP’s legal action was a cynical attempt to swing the elections in their favor. Next, BDS supporters slandered a Jewish candidate as Islamophobic, despite ample evidence to the contrary. Finally, they demanded that candidates sign a shamefully hypocritical and discriminatory “ethics statement,” pledging not to go on educational trips to Israel with a number of pro-Israel organizations. All in all, these were disturbing new tactics in a longstanding campaign to intimidate pro-Israel activists, prevent uninformed student leaders from hearing Israel’s side of the story, and control the outcome of future student council votes on divestment.
Fortunately, SJP’s campaign of hatred and intimidation has sparked major backlash on campus. The Jewish student government candidate who was slandered won by a comfortable margin. Pro-Israel students published a statement condemning SJP’s hate speech and discrimination, calling for action by the UCLA student government and administration. As of press time, the statement had been signed by over 1,850 members of the UCLA community (to sign, click here). In response to public outcries, UCLA Chancellor Gene Block and UC President Janet Napolitano have released public statements condemning SJP’s actions. The battle over Israel’s legitimacy on campus will likely continue for years to come, but it is now clear that UCLA’s Jewish and pro-Israel student community will no longer allow SJP’s bigotry to go unchallenged.
Max Samarov is a senior researcher at StandWithUs, specializing in helping student leaders across North America fight against BDS on their campuses.