ZOA/Lawfare Project to UC Irvine: Punish SJP/MSU for Threatening Jews and White People


Chancellor Howard Gillman

Office of the Chancellor

510 Aldrich Hall

Irvine, CA 92697-1900

Dear Chancellor Gillman:

We are national educational and advocacy organizations committed to ensuring that Jewish and pro-Israel students are provided with the kind of campus environment that every student deserves and is legally entitled to – an environment that is safe, welcoming and free from threats, harassment, intimidation and violence.  We were deeply troubled to receive reports that on Wednesday, May 18, 2016, Jewish and pro-Israel students were threatened, harassed and intimidated by members of registered student organizations at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) – Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), the Muslim Student Union (MSU) and other allied groups.  As we know first-hand from our years of work with students at UCI, the SJP and MSU have a long history of creating a hostile anti-Semitic campus environment, threatening and intimidating Jewish and pro-Israel students, compromising their feelings of personal safety, promoting anti-Semitic lies about Jews and Israel, disrupting Jewish and pro-Israel events, and even engaging in violence and criminal acts.  On May 18th, the conduct of these groups and their allies amounted to a violation of the rights of Jewish and pro-Israel students:  Members of the groups aggressively disrupted the screening of a documentary film about young soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces, shouted hateful and violence-inciting threats, blocked exits and prevented people from leaving, and forced at least one student to hide, fearing for her personal safety.  The university has an affirmative duty to ensure that the SJP and MSU’s behavior is curtailed, and to revoke their registered status immediately until they can conform their conduct to the rules and norms that other student groups are expected to comply with. 

After the May 18th incident, you committed the university to investigating what occurred and to determining whether disciplinary and legal actions are appropriate.  We fully support these steps and write to urge you to: (1) complete a thorough and prompt investigation; (2) hold all wrongdoers – both individual students and student groups – accountable to the fullest extent permissible under university rules and policies, which we think require the dismissal of student wrongdoers and the revocation of the SJP’s and the MSU’s registered status; (3) report the May 18th incident and the suspected wrongdoers to the Orange County District Attorney’s office for criminal investigation and possible prosecution under California’s criminal laws; and (4) publicly condemn what occurred on May 18th as hateful, anti-Semitic and against the rules and values of the university, and also publicly condemn the student groups that perpetrated the incident, by name, so that the groups and the rest of the UCI community understand that the behavior is intolerable.  All these actions are necessary to ensure that Jewish and pro-Israel students are protected from a hostile and discriminatory anti-Semitic environment, as required under UCI’s rules and policies and under the Statement of Principles recently issued by the UC Regents.  These actions are also required by Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 

Background Facts

On May 18th, a group called Students Supporting Israel (SSI) co-hosted a screening of “Beneath the Helmet,” a documentary that tells the stories of five young soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).  Approximately 10 students from SSI gathered together inside a classroom at UCI to view the film.

According to student accounts reported in the media, an angry mob of approximately 50 members of the SJP, the MSU and their allies tried to force their way into the room where the students were watching the documentary.  The protesters were shouting and chanting, “Intifada, Intifada, long live the Intifada!”; “F_ _k Israel!”; “F_ _k the police!”; “When people are occupied, resistance is justified!”; and “All white people need to die!”  Calling for an Intifada is widely understood as calling for the murder of Jews and constitutes incitement to violence.  Likewise, “resistance” is a term that refers to murdering innocent Jewish civilians. 

Unquestionably, the mob’s behavior and the shouting were aggressive and threatening violence.  The video footage of their actions, which we will share with you if you have not seen it, is alarming.  For good reason, student attendees were terrified. 

Katrin Gendova, SSI’s president, was at the screening and she described what happened:  “They were screaming.  They tried to push open the door, but we were holding the door from the inside.”  According to Ms. Gendova, the screening’s attendees were mostly women and some felt intimidated and trapped inside the room. 

Sharon Shaoulian, a recent graduate of UCI and the former president of UCI’s pro-Israel group, Anteaters for Israel, had hoped to attend the screening.  Ms. Shaoulian reported, “When I arrived, they were screaming at the top of their lungs, ‘intifada, intifada,’ banging on the windows, and I could see women – Jewish students who were desperately trying to keep the door closed from inside.” 

A veteran of the IDF attended the event so that he could respond to the audience’s questions about the film and his life in the IDF.  The former soldier reported, “As the film was playing we began hearing a lot of shouting outside.  It was immediately clear what was happening.  The woman in charge of the event was literally holding the door closed with her hands as the mob tried to break into the classroom.  As the shouting grew louder, it became apparent that we would not be allowed to leave, so we called campus security and the police. . . . They were banging on the glass and the door and we could hear screaming outside.  The students [in the room] had a look of panic on their faces – they were terrified.” 

One student, Eliana Kopley, was forced to hide from the hateful mob.  Ms. Kopley had just left an event about the Holocaust and was walking toward the building where the screening was taking place.  She was confronted by the angry protestors from the SJP, the MSU and their allies, where they were pounding on the doors and windows and chanting their hateful chants about Israel.  Ms. Kopley stated, “I was terrified. There is no other word to describe how I felt.” 

As the mob tried to get into the event, a protestor shouted, “If we’re not allowed in, you’re not allowed in!” 

Prevented by this mob of angry protesters from attending the event, Ms. Kopley walked away.  She was reportedly followed, forcing her to escape to the safety of a nearby room.   Ms. Kopley stayed on the phone with her mother, and then stayed on the phone with 9-1-1 until a police officer found her.  Two officers escorted her through the angry mob to the film screening, the officers wearing black rubber gloves in order to protect themselves from sharp objects. 

As Ms. Kopley was being rescued by police, local and campus law enforcement officers arrived to protect those students and others who were effectively held hostage in the room where the screening was taking place.  They waited for 45 minutes, in fear, to be rescued. 

Before they left the classroom, the police reportedly told those trapped in the room not to respond to the protesters.  It is ironic that those who support Israel had their rights to freedom of speech and to peacefully assemble curtailed, while those who hate Israel – and who were intent on violating those rights – were permitted to stay and continue their harassing, threatening and intimidating conduct.  In short, the wrong individuals were removed from the scene, and the wrong individuals’ heckling, harassing and threatening speech was being protected. 

It is troubling, but not surprising that the SJP and its allies were not the least bit remorseful for threatening physical violence, and intimidating and harassing innocent students.  Indeed, they were exultant, bragging on the SJP’s Facebook page:  “Today we successfully demonstrated against the presence of IDF soldiers on campus. We condemn the Israeli ‘Defense’ Forces, better defined as Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF), because they enforce Zionist settler colonialism and military occupation of Palestinian land by the Israeli nation-state.” 

The SJP, the MSU and Their Allies Must Be Held Accountable

Under University Rules and Policies

We urge you to complete a prompt and thorough investigation into the May 18th incident and to hold the students and student groups involved accountable if the evidence shows (as we expect it will) that they violated university rules and policies, including the following provisions of the Code of Student Conduct:

Section 102.08, which prohibits physical abuse, including but not limited to physical assault, threats of violence, or other conduct that threatens the health or safety of any person;

Section 102.09, which prohibits harassment;

Section 102.13, which prohibits obstructing or disrupting university activities;

Section 102.14, which prohibits disorderly conduct;

Section 102.15, which prohibits participating in a disturbance of the peace or unlawful assembly;

Section 102.16, which prohibits failing to comply with the directions of a university or other public official acting in the performance of his or her duties while on university property or at official university functions, or resisting or obstructing such university or other public officials in the performance of or the attempt to perform their duties;

Section 102.24, which prohibits conduct where the actor means to communicate a serious expression of intent to terrorize, or acts in reckless disregard of the risk of terrorizing, one or more university students, faculty or staff; and

Section 102.27, which prohibits violating local, state, or federal laws otherwise not covered under the Code of Student Conduct.

Each of the foregoing provisions is grounds for disciplining the students and student groups involved in the May 18th incident.  In addition to violating these provisions, the evidence shows that the wrongdoers violated the university’s policy on nondiscrimination.  UCI policies require that student groups certify that they will not discriminate based on a number of categories, including national origin, religion, and service in the uniformed services.   http://www.campusorgs.uci.edu/documents/documents/nondiscrimination.pdf.  By the SJP’s own admission on the group’s Facebook page, this hate group and its allies engaged in their threatening, violence-inciting and possibly criminal behavior because Israeli soldiers were present on the UCI campus. 

All violators of any or all of the foregoing provisions of the Code of Student Conduct should be punished to the fullest extent permissible under the Code.  Given the seriousness of the misconduct, individual students should be dismissed, pursuant to Section 105.06.  Student groups should have their registration revoked, pursuant to Section 103.10(F)(5) and 105.11.  Indeed, based on the serious nature of the allegations against the SJP and the MSU, these organizations’ recognition must be suspended even before the university’s investigation is concluded, pursuant to Section 103.10(D)(3).  Moreover, in accordance with Section 104.90, whatever sanctions are ultimately imposed should be enhanced because the SJP, the MSU and their allies selected their targets based on the targets’ national and ethnic origin and their service in the Israeli uniformed services.

Finally, should the SJP and/or MSU ever seek to be reinstated, a condition of the reinstatement should be mandatory completion of an educational program on contemporary manifestations of anti-Semitism (using the U.S. State Department definition of anti-Semitism as guidance), as well as a closely supervised period of probation with appropriate mentoring and monitoring.  See 105.11 (authorizing disciplinary action “specifying requirements relating to expectations of behavior in a contract”).

The University Must Refer this Matter to Law Enforcement for Investigation and

Possible Criminal Prosecution

In addition to the sanctions that should be imposed on the SJP, the MSU and others for violating university policies, we urge you to report the wrongdoers to the District Attorney’s office for investigation and possible criminal prosecution under the following California laws:  (1) Penal Code § 403, which provides that “[e]very person who, without authority of law, willfully disturbs or breaks up any assembly or meeting that is not unlawful in its character . . . is guilty of a misdemeanor”; (2) Penal Code § 182, which makes it unlawful for “two or more persons [to] conspire to commit any crime”; and (3) Penal Code § 236, which provides that “[f]alse imprisonment is the unlawful violation of the personal liberty of another.”

As you may know, several members of the MSU from UCI and UC Riverside were prosecuted and convicted in 2011 under Penal Code §§ 403 and 182, after they disrupted a meeting and speech at UCI by Michael Oren, then the Israeli Ambassador to the United States.  After the MSU students were charged, District Attorney Rackauckas referred to the incident as an “organized attempt to squelch the speaker, who was invited to speak to a group at UCI.  These defendants meant to stop this speech and stop anyone else from hearing his ideas, and they did so by disrupting a lawful meeting. This is a clear violation of the law and failing to bring charges against this conduct would amount to a failure to uphold the Constitution.”  (http://orangecountyda.org/civica/press/display.asp?layout=2&Entry=2148.)

Significantly, District Attorney Rackauckas also stated: 

We must decide whether we are a Country of laws or a Country of anarchy.  We cannot tolerate a pre-planned violation of the law, even if the crime takes place on a school campus and even if the defendants are college students.  In our democratic society, we cannot tolerate a deliberate, organized, repetitive and collective effort to significantly disrupt a speaker, who hundreds assembled to hear. We cannot tolerate having a group deciding to prevent a speaker from speaking, an audience from listening, and the speaker and the audience from engaging in an exchange of ideas in the form of questions and answers.


The MSU, the SJP and their allies did far more than conspire to willfully disturb the students’ movie screening on May 18th. They also intentionally restrained, detained and confined attendees to the screening room, against their will.  If you have not done so already, we urge you to file an incident report with the Harbor Justice Center, Office of the Orange County District Attorney, who can determine whether California law was violated on May 18th, and if it was, how the criminals deserve to be punished.

You Must Publicly Condemn the Wrongdoing as Hateful, Divisive and Anti-Semitic, and Also Condemn the Perpetrators by Name

In addition to holding wrongdoers accountable, we urge you to make this appalling incident a teachable moment:  Publicly condemn what occurred on May 18th as hateful, anti-Semitic and against the rules and values of the university, and also condemn the groups that perpetrated the anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, by name.  The wrongdoers – and the rest of the UCI community – must be sent the clear message that the university will not tolerate anti-Semitic bigotry or any conduct that creates a hostile environment for Jewish and pro-Israel students, threatening their physical and emotional safety.

All of the steps we have proposed are not only consistent with the university’s rules and policies; they are also required by the UC Regents’ recent Statement Against Intolerance.  The Regents made it crystal clear that “anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination have no place at the University of California.”  The Regents adopted a principle prohibiting discrimination based on religion and national origin, among other categories, and a principle affirming the right “to speak, to be heard, and to be engaged unburdened by historical biases, stereotypes or prejudices.”  The Regents emphasized that “actions that physically or otherwise interfere with the ability of an individual or group to assemble, speak, and share or hear the opinions of others  . . . will not be tolerated.”  Likewise, the Regents made it clear that harassment, threats and assaults will not be tolerated.  The Regents directed university leaders to apply all these principles “to the full extent permissible under law.” 

Finally, we wish to remind you that federally-funded educational institutions such as UCI are required under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act to take prompt and effective steps to remedy a hostile anti-Semitic campus environment and prevent it from recurring.  (See http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/letters/colleague-201010.html and http://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/secletter/151231.html.)  Failure to comply with Title VI could mean a loss of federal funding.

We urge you not to downplay the seriousness of the May 18th incident, or the SJP and MSU’s long pattern of anti-Semitic conduct.  On May 26th, you told the Orange County Register that “the characterization of pervasive anti-Semitism on campus is wrong.”  Members of our coalition know first-hand from years of working with Jewish students at UCI that the characterization is in fact accurate.  It is not helpful to solving the problem to deny or minimize it. 

In 2009, the president of the pro-Israel student group described UCI as “a hotbed for anti-Israel and anti-Semitic activism over the past seven years.”  That same year, another student wrote that UCI is “a firsthand example of Islamic fundamentalist anti-Semitism.”  After members of the MSU heckled Israeli Ambassador Oren in 2010, a student told the UCI newspaper, “Personally, as a Jew, I feel scared and threatened. . . . I didn’t expect it [the campus] to be so hateful . . . .”  Last month, a UCI alum and former president of Anteaters for Israel stated, “SJP and MSU have a documented history of violence on this campus, specifically violence against Jewish students, myself a victim numerous times, [and my] friends victimized, and their history of sabotaging Jewish events and intimidating Jewish students.”  Just today, in a letter you received from a coalition of Jewish and civil rights organizations (including the ZOA), you read the statements from both current and recently graduated UCI students about their experiences at UCI.  These students’ alarming accounts should tell you that anti-Semitism on your campus has been, and continues to be, a serious problem that must be addressed.

We look forward to your prompt response and your plan of action before we consider next steps.  Please be assured that we would be pleased to work with you to bring meaningful and positive changes to the campus, so that Jewish and pro-Israel students at UCI are finally afforded the kind of campus environment they are legally entitled to and that every student deserves – one that is physically and psychologically safe and conducive to learning.  We, like you, want UCI to be identified as a campus that is safe and welcoming to all students, including those who are Jewish and who love and support Israel.

Very truly yours,

Susan B. Tuchman, Esq.                                      Brooke Goldstein, Esq.

Director, Center for Law and Justice                Director

Zionist Organization of America                        The Lawfare Project

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cc:  Governor Jerry Brown (via fax)

       U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (via fax)

       U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (via fax)

       U.S. Representative Mimi Walters (via fax)

       U.S. Representative Brad Sherman

       California Assembly Member Shirley Weber, Chair of the Assembly Select Committee on

         Campus Climate (via fax)

       Senator Marty Block, Chair of the California Legislative Jewish Caucus

       California Assembly Member Travis Allen (via fax)

       Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas

       Janet Napolitano, University of California President

       University of California Board of Regents

       Mark G. Yudof, Chair, Academic Engagement Network

       Eric Fingerhut, President, Hillel International

       Tracy Turoff, Vice President and General Counsel, Hillel International

       Stephen M. Greenberg, Chairman, Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish


       Malcolm I. Hoenlein, Executive Vice Chairman, Conference of Presidents of Major  

         American Jewish Organizations

       Ilan Sinelnikov, President and Founder, Students Supporting Israel

       Orange County Independent Task Force on Anti-Semitism

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