Suppression at UC Irvine follows predictable pattern

Students protest Israeli soldiers, face false accusations and discipline

Palestine Legal joins with the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) to express serious concern about the University of California Irvine’s treatment of student protestors.

On May 18, students at UC Irvine (UCI) gathered outside a film screening featuring a panel of Israeli soldiers, to protest police brutality and draw connections between state violence at home and abroad. The coalition included the Black Student Union, Muslim Student Union, Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán, La Resilencia Trans/Queer de UCI, American Indian Student Association, Asian Pacific Student Association, Jewish Voice for Peace, and Students for Justice in Palestine.

As documented by NLG legal observers, the protestors chanted and held signs outside the event, and stayed outside until the event was over. They were cooperative with police.

In response, Israel advocacy organizations launched a campaign of false accusations, which re-circulated in the media, characterizing the peaceful protest as “violent” and an “angry mob,” holding event participants hostage. Chancellor Gilman condemned the protest in an incredible rush to judgment. Based on misinformation and without investigating the facts, Gilman callously broadcasted false accusations that protestors blocked the doors to the hall where the film was screened, and posed a danger to those inside the event.

The only “danger” to event participants was having their ideas challenged. 

The University is now threatening Students for Justice in Palestine with discipline. This undermines the free speech rights of all UCI students.

The National Lawyers Guild wrote to Chancellor Gilman to correct the demonstrably false accusations against student protestors, and to demand that Gilman retract remarks to the campus community condemning the protest. The letter also reminds UCI that all students, regardless of race, religion, or political beliefs, must enjoy the right to protest.  

All too familiar

To those familiar with the “Palestine exception to free speech,” the facts in this case reflect a predictable and disturbing pattern of suppression:

Typically, students express support for Palestinian rights, often in emotional and widely-attended protests, and Israel advocacy groups are quick to make unsubstantiated allegations; media outlets recirculate these allegations without substantiating them; off-campus advocacy groups target university administrators with action alerts demanding that students criticizing Israeli policies be investigated and punished; university administrators swiftly make public statements condemning student protestors without investigating the facts, and proceed to single out Students for Justice in Palestine for discipline.

Palestine Legal has seen similar cases from San Francisco State, to UC Davis, Loyola University, Northeastern, and Florida Atlantic University. And now again at UC Irvine.

Read NLG’s letter to UC Irvine here.