Palestine Legal, the ACLU of Southern California, and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) wrote to UCLA today demanding that the university reverse an unconstitutional policy of discrimination against viewpoints in favor of divestment from Israel.
The UCLA Graduate Students Association (GSA) recently agreed to fund a Diversity Town Hall event on the condition that the event organizers have “zero connection with ‘Divest from Israel’ or any equivalent movement/organization.”
Palestine Legal, CCR, and the ACLU warned the university that, “This condition violates the well-established First Amendment rights of student organizations on campus, and must be rescinded immediately.”
The event was intended to discuss issues of race and campus climate among a broad spectrum of student communities, in the wake of the “Kanye Western” black face party and an upsurge of anti-racist protest movements on campuses across the US. The student government funded the event but not before requiring assurances that organizers would honor the prohibition on engaging with supporters of divestment from Israel. A student government official also threatened to freeze funding for the event three hours before it was to begin in response to rumors that there was student concern about the funding restriction.
“This is a classic example of the Palestine Exception to free speech,” explained Liz Jackson, an attorney with Palestine Legal, which recently issued a report documenting the widespread suppression of campus speech in favor of Palestinian rights.
The letter notes that through its funding restriction, UCLA sent a message: "divestment supporters are on a blacklist, and if you associate with them, you will be punished by being unable to obtain the same funding available to others with different points of view. … Such an effort to tilt the scales on an important political issue is anathema to the First Amendment."
In a statement, Students for Justice in Palestine expressed their concern for all students at UCLA:
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. This is not only unconstitutional, it casts a devastating chill over our campus environment and threatens to extinguish free speech on campus.
For those following the UC Regents controversy around the proposed Statement of Principles Against Intolerance, this incident is the perfect illustration of the First Amendment red flags raised by demands that the university define criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic. As Israel advocacy groups insist that criticism of Israel be considered officially anti-Semitic, they create pressure on well-meaning university officials to violate student speech rights. The regents should reject such a blatant invitation to violate the First Amendment.
The UC Regents meet again tomorrow, November 19th, to discuss the proposed principles against intolerance.
The full letter to UCLA can be found here.