Discrimination against pro-divestment viewpoints hurt the campus climate
In November 2015, a student government official at UCLA restricted funding for a Diversity Town Hall event by requiring the event organizers to maintain “zero connection” to anyone with “Divest from Israel or any equivalent movement/organization” – or else they would lose their funding. The UCLA Discrimination Prevention Office confirmed in a report released this week that the funding condition violated campus policy and harmed the campus climate by chilling speech.
Students for Justice in Palestine at UCLA, the group primarily targeted by the funding discrimination, posted a statement here.
The detailed report and factual findings from UCLA’s Office of Discrimination Prevention is available here.
“Legislators and university administrators should take note: this case is a typical example of the nationwide push to suppress the growing movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel (BDS) through measures that violate the First Amendment,” said Liz Jackson, attorney with Palestine Legal and cooperating counsel with the Center for Constitutional Rights. “Just like NY Governor Cuomo’s executive order to create a blacklist, and just like California’s proposed anti-BDS bill moving through the state legislature, it is unlawful for the state to penalize advocacy for a civil rights boycott.”
Palestine Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) explained in repeated communications to UCLA that such a funding stipulation violated a basic constitutional requirement of free speech: that student governments distribute funding in a viewpoint neutral manner.
The incident at UCLA repeats a well-documented pattern of tactics used to suppress Palestinian rights advocates across the country, including at the University of California (UC).
The President of UCLA’s Graduate Student Association – who issued the funding condition – is not the only UC authority to encourage penalizing speech that favors Palestinian rights. The Board of Regents spent a year flirting with their own First Amendment violations in considering a blanket condemnation of speech critical of Israeli policies as officially anti-semitic. During that debate, Regent Blum, spouse of U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, threatened to penalize the UC if it did not expel students who express criticism of Israel.
Meanwhile, the California state legislature is considering legislation – AB 2844 – which would similarly trample free speech by denying state contracts to supporters of BDS.
Students for Justice in Palestine at UCLA first complained about funding discrimination in November 2015. The Graduate Student Association finally revoked the funding restriction and apologized to students in February 2016, and issued a letter of censure to the GSA President in May 2016. UCLA’s Discrimination Prevention Office began an investigation in March 2016.
“This whole process has taken an emotional toll, to put it mildly” said Yacoub Kureh, UCLA Graduate Student and President of SJP for the most recent academic year, “I’ve lost sleep, my research and teaching suffered because of the stress and the exorbitant number of hours spent explaining our rights to university officials. I was repeatedly smeared in conservative media pieces as an anti-Semite and a bully, merely because SJP objected to violations of our First Amendment rights.”
Since SJP asserted its rights, Kureh, who comes from a Palestinian refugee family, was targeted with a series of harassing blogs accusing him of antisemitism. “The funding discrimination undermined an open exchange of ideas on campus by isolating and stigmatizing students concerned with Palestinian rights,” Kureh added, “We are here to learn and engage with each other on tough issues - not to be blacklisted. This is not only unconstitutional; it is a blow to the educational environment.”