Issues: Suppression, Lawsuits, Harassment
In October 2018, just ahead of the annual National Students for Justice in Palestine (NSJP) conference, UCLA sent NSJP a letter claiming that a bear logo used by the group violated the school’s trademark. The university’s threat was sent to NSJP amid a barrage of efforts by pro-Israel actors to shut down the conference at UCLA.
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On October 31, 2018, students at UCLA organizing the annual NSJP conference received a letter from UCLA Vice Chancellor Michael Beck ordering them to “cease and desist” using bear imagery in their advertisements for the conference. Students had created original artwork depicting a bear in a sitting position, wearing a keffiyeh scarf and gazing up at a kite, alongside three doves. Though the bear did not remotely resemble UCLA’s cartoonish Bruin symbol, UCLA demanded that the students “Immediately CEASE AND DESIST from use of ‘UCLA’ and/or artistic renditions of the Bruin Bear associated with a Palestinian kite which some may interpret as an intention to endorse violence against Israel.”
The ACLU of Southern California and Palestine Legal wrote to UCLA on November 7 to refute the school’s claim that use of the bear logo used was a violation of the Bruin Bear trademark. NSJP stood firmly by its right to advertise its conference with a bear holding a Palestinian kite, but removed the word “UCLA” from its poster. On November 8, UCLA backed down on its cease and desist demands. Additional attacks on NSJP’s conference came from government officials. In October, Congressman Brad Sherman wrote a letter to UCLA Chancellor Gene Block urging him to cancel the NSJP conference. His letter falsely claimed that “SJP’s members and leaders have a long history of promoting anti-Semitic hate speech.”
On November 6, Los Angeles City Council Member Paul Koretz introduced a resolution that, despite claiming to respect freedom of speech, called for government censorship of speech, namely demanding that UCLA cancel the NSJP conference. The city council voted unanimously in favor of the resolution. Koretz also sent a letter to Chancellor Block calling for cancellation of the conference. Koretz later attended a protest against the conference at which he suggested the students attending the conference may be plotting terrorism: “We can’t tell if they’re plotting terrorism or just figuring out how to make life uncomfortable for Jewish students and supporters of Israel on campuses across the country. Whatever it is, it’s definitely anti-Semitism, it’s definitely hate speech.”
In a statement from NSJP, Ayesha Khan said: “We are simply trying to bring together hundreds of passionate young people committed to equity and respect for human rights, as we have done for many years. I am saddened and appalled by UCLA administration’s dismissal of continued harassment and abuse on social media and on their own campus, in an effort to appease other groups and institutions whose political viewpoints they favor.”
NSJP’s 2018 conference went forward as planned despite numerous efforts by anti-Palestinian groups to stop it.
August-September 2018 Pro-Israel groups launch petitions demanding that UCLA cancel the conference. At a UC Regents meeting, a member of Students Supporting Israel demands that the regents force student organizers to open up the conference to anyone who wants to attend.
October 11, 2018 Congressman Brad Sherman writes a letter to UCLA Chancellor Gene Block urging him to cancel the conference.
October 31, 2018 UCLA Vice Chancellor Michael Beck sends a letter to NSJP ordering them to “cease and desist” using the UCLA name and bear imagery. The letter threatens cancellation of the conference.
November 6, 2018 Los Angeles City Council Member Paul Koretz introduces a resolution falsely accusing NSJP of violence and calling on UCLA to cancel the NSJP conference. The city council votes unanimously in favor of the resolution. Koretz also sends a letter to Chancellor Block calling for cancellation.
November 7, 2018 The ACLU Foundation of Southern California and Palestine Legal write to UCLA refuting the school’s claims. The same day pro-Israel protestors at UCLA assault three students while shouting anti-Arab and misogynist slurs.
November 8, 2018 UCLA backs down on its cease and desist demands after receiving Palestine Legal and ACLU’s letter on behalf of SJP.
November 12, 2018 Anti-Defamation League issues statement claiming that the conference will lead to a hostile environment for Jewish students.
November 13, 2018 UCLA Hillel issues defamatory statement against conference calling it a “hate fest.”
November 16-18, 2018 NSJP holds its eighth annual conference at UCLA, with the largest number of attendees ever.
November 19, 2018 Pro-Israel group announces that it filed a complaint against UCLA with the federal government immediately after the conference started.
Letters and Statements >>
Listen: LA’s Israel lobby fails to ban conference on Palestinian rights, Nora Barrows-Friedman, Electronic Intifada (November 29, 2018)
Largest Ever pro-Palestinian Student Conference Held at UCLA, The Forward and Aiden Pink, Haaretz (November 18, 2018)
UCLA faces controversy for trademark claim against NSJP conference logo, Melissa Morris, Catherine Montgomery, Patrik Bauer, Thomas Lim, The Daily Bruin (November 15, 2018)
Students Refuse to Cease and Desist Using Bear Image, Emma Whitford, Inside Higher Ed (November 8, 2018)
Bear fight: Student Palestinian group claims UCLA trademark complaint is effort to stifle speech, Doha Madani, NBC News (November 7, 2018)