Supporting Palestine: Silencing, intimidation and blacklisting activists at UC

Writer: Students for Justice in Palestine, UCR student organization

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In recent years, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been a controversial topic at the UC system and indeed around the nation. Student activists on both sides of the issue have claimed that they feel “marginalized” on campus. However, to portray the two sides’ claims to “marginalization” as equal in scale or intensity would be painfully dishonest; as the attacks against pro-Palestine students depart from being merely political, but have also become personal, violent and blatantly intended to destroy the students’ futures. Whether it’s the policy and language of the entire UC system’s administration, or the one-on-one micro acts against activists, pro-Palestinian activists experience great fear of being targeted or silenced. Admitting this is not taking a side, but recognizing the situation as it is for the sake of student safety.

Here at UCR, for one, the Ethnic Studies Department experienced a break-in just a few weeks ago, in which the pictures of several women of color were defaced and certain items were stolen. The break-in was also politically motivated as images of Palestine flags had been torn from the walls. The incident is indeed currently being investigated as a hate crime.

At UCSB in October 2015, a student who argued in favor of Israel began a discussion with a member of the Students for Justice in Palestine during a peaceful protest. The SJP member began recording the conversation as it became heated. A few minutes into the conversation the other student, apparently unaware he had been recorded, swiped the phone from his hand and began violently shoving the SJP member. This is part of string of such incidents across the nation which is too lengthy to list in full.

Just in the past year, websites have been created listing pro-Palestine students at universities across the United States. According to the websites themselves, the specific goal is to blacklist these students from future career opportunities, as they are portrayed as violent and dangerous terrorist sympathizers. The lists include dozens of UC students, including current UCR students as well as UCR alumni. The list is far from obscure, as videos bashing these student activists having been viewed tens of thousands of times on YouTube. We, as Students for Justice in Palestine at UCR write this article fully aware that our own chances of being blacklisted have just increased exponentially. In fact, our president this year is actually blacklisted on one of such said lists for their pro-Palestinian activism. Many activists have deleted entire social media accounts due to fear of being portrayed in a dishonest or negative light by such a site.

Just this March the UC Board of Regents displayed an obvious moment of bias in regards to the issue of climate for pro-Israel and pro-Palestine students, conflating the opinions of many pro-Palestine activists with “discrimination.” Weeks ago, they passed a “Statement on the Principles of Intolerance” meant to address instances and attitudes of intolerance that affect a diversity of communities. However, the vast majority of its introductory commentary centered around anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism and the original wording declared that “anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination have no place at the University of California.” In fact, anti-Zionism inherently is not discriminatory in any way but is a political opinion whose proponents condemn the practices of the state of Israel. It is a belief widely-held by peoples of all ethnicities, nationalities and religions; including many Jews. One of the major groups that lead efforts to oppose this statement’s wording was a group called Jewish Voice for Peace.

Those who oppose Zionism see it as an ideology that has justified the forced removal of millions of Palestinians from their homeland, the continued, internationally illegal, Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and racially discriminatory practices by the Israeli occupying forces. The majority of those of us who advocate for Palestinian rights first and foremost consider ourselves proponents of social justice and equality, and strong opponents of racism and discrimination. Because of these principles, we then necessarily consider ourselves anti-Zionists. Though the wording was eventually softened in the statement, university systems by nature ought to be places where a diverse array of views are not only allowed, but encouraged. Policymakers of the UC ought to be embarrassed that something so limiting to political expression was even considered. Furthermore, ignoring or disregarding the acts of discrimination or intimidation in regards to any community has historically served to legitimize and encourage such acts. In regards to the attacks against pro-Palestine students, the Regents’ “statement against intolerance” may have ironically contributed to this.  

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