UC Irvine chancellor: Anti-Israel protesters ‘crossed the line of civility’

Howard Gillman raps pro-Palestinian activists for disrupting screening of film on IDF, which led to police escort for viewers

Illustrative: Muslim students at an anti-Israel protest at the University of California, Irvine, in 2006. (Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images/JTA)
Illustrative: Muslim students at an anti-Israel protest at the University of California, Irvine, in 2006. (Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images/JTA)

Anti-Israel student protesters this week disrupted the screening of a film about the Israel Defense Forces at University of California, Irvine, leading to police intervention to protect the Jewish students at the event.

In a campus-wide message sent Thursday, University of California Irvine Chancellor Howard Gillman said the disruption, which appears to have been coordinated by the campus group Students for Justice in Palestine, “crossed the line of civility.”

The attendees at the screening of the Israeli documentary “Beneath the Helmet” Wednesday night, under the auspices of the campus Hillel, had to be escorted away from the scene by campus police, the Orange County Register reported.

Anti-Israel protesters have disrupted numerous pro-Israel events and Israeli speakers at campuses and other venues around the world in the past year. The incidents include demonstrators at London’s Kings College in January smashing a window during a speech by former Shin Bet chief Ami Ayalon; protesters at San Francisco State University shouting down Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat during a speech there in April, and activists drowning out Hebrew University Professor Moshe Halbertal as he delivered a speech at the University of Minnesota in November.

Hillel International President and CEO Eric Fingerhut said Thursday that his group “condemns the actions” of the protesters who “aggressively confronted and threatened a group of 10 University of California, Irvine students who were attending a pro-Israel event on campus.”

Citing campus police, observers and video from the scene Wednesday night, the Register reported that about 50 protesters gathered outside the film, held in a university classroom, and “began profanity-laced chants against Israel.”

“They were screaming. They tried to push open the door, but we were holding the door from the inside,” Katrin Gendova, president of the pro-Israel group sponsoring the screening, told the Register. She said the attendees were mostly women and some felt intimated and trapped inside the room.

“They had a lawyer with them who said [they had] a right to come in,” Gendova added. “They were disrupting our event. This is not freedom of speech. It’s harassment.”

In his email Thursday, Gillman said that while the university will protect freedom of speech, “threats, harassment, incitement and defamatory speech are not protected. We must shelter everyone’s right to speak freely – without fear or intimidation – and allow events to proceed without disruption and potential danger.”

He also noted that the university administration is “investigating whether disciplinary or legal actions are appropriate.”

The University of California system has in recent years experienced numerous anti-Israel protests that have been accused of crossing the line into anti-Semitism. In March, the university system’s regents approved a statement condemning anti-Semitic behavior and an accompanying report that urges campus leaders to confront “anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism.”

Hillel’s Fingerhut, in a statement Thursday night about the Irvine incident, said: “We cannot allow Jewish students to be intimidated, threatened or harassed when they exercise their rights to assemble for student programming. Hillel is committed to freedom of speech and freedom of expression for all students. This includes the students who peacefully gathered to watch a film yesterday.”

Students for Justice in Palestine leaders did not respond to the Register’s requests for comment. However, just hours after the incident the group wrote on its Facebook page that it had “successfully demonstrated against the presence of IDF soldiers on campus.”

Today we successfully demonstrated against the presence of IDF soldiers on campus. We condemn the Israeli "Defense"…

Posted by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at UC Irvine on Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The post accused the IDF of enforcing “Zionist settler colonialism” and using Gaza “as a laboratory for weapons testing” and enforcing “militarization and policing all over the world.”

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