Palestine Legal has written to the University of California, Irvine (UCI) to describe the chilling impact of years of unaddressed discrimination against students who advocate for Palestinian freedom and to urge administrators to take action to protect the rights of their students.
Right-wing Israel-aligned groups have long sought to put an end to a vibrant tradition of student activism for Palestine at UCI. They have demanded criminal prosecution of student activists, filed baseless complaints to the federal government, and targeted students in defamatory poster campaigns on campus. Last year, Israeli soldiers surveilled and harassed Palestinian students and their allies.
Capitulating to the demands of Israel-aligned groups, UCI administrators investigated and punished Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at UCI for exercising their First Amendment right to engage in peaceful protest in both 2016 and 2017.
Unable to rely on campus administrators, SJP members have taken their own steps to protect themselves from in-person and online harassment. These efforts range from cutting down on publicizing campus events to covering their faces when speaking publicly about Palestine. But these efforts also limit the size of their audience and their ability to communicate their message.
In a letter sent today, Palestine Legal explained, “These chilling effects are deeply concerning at a time when the stakes are so high for communities of color and for social justice and human rights issues. Universities should be empowering their students to engage on difficult issues. Instead, these students feel inhibited and silenced by the university’s pattern of punishing them for expressing their views, rather than protecting their speech rights from attacks by outside groups aiming to undermine them.”
Palestine Legal called on UCI to issue a public statement that SJP’s advocacy on campus is protected speech; to condemn outside harassment groups that have targeted UCI students for their pro-Palestine activism; and to cease punishing students for protected expression.
Read more here.