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BDS bullying at UCLA

It’s not always easy to evaluate reports of US campus conflict over Israel/Palestine. Sometimes the facts are unclear, and readers in the UK may not feel they have a full grasp of the wider cultural and political context.  I’m opposed to attempts to shut down debate and inhibit the free exchange of ideas by both boycotters and their opponents, but it’s not always possible to determine, particularly from a distance, when free speech begins to slide into intimidation.

But there doesn’t seem much ambiguity over the latest move by pro-Palestinian activists at UCLA. It’s very alarming.

Candidates running to serve as officers in the undergraduate student government at UCLA are being asked to sign a pledge that they will not go on certain free or sponsored trip to Israel, a prerequisite that one pro-Israel group is calling “bigoted” and “absurd.” According to the UCLA newspaper the Daily Bruin, the majority of candidates have signed the pledge.

The Students’ Association Ethics statement would require council members to refrain from going on trips paid for or partially-sponsored by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Anti-Defamation League and Hasbara Fellowships, all groups with a pro-Israel stance

Here’s how the students attempted to justify this step.

“As many students have experienced this year, AIPAC and ADL have political agendas that marginalize multiple communities on campus,” read part of the statement. “Both AIPAC and the ADL (as well as its current president) have histories of Islamophobia.

In fact the ADL actively opposes Islamophobia.

It’s appalling that these McCarthyite tactics are being used to close down debate and intimidate students. They run counter to the university’s own principles:

“We do not tolerate acts of discrimination, harassment, profiling or other conduct causing harm to individuals on the basis of expression of race, color, ethnicity, gender, age, disability, religious beliefs, political preference, sexual orientation, gender identity, citizenship, or national origin among other personal characteristics. Such conduct violates UCLA’s Principles of Community and may result in imposition of sanctions according to campus policies governing the conduct of students, staff and faculty.”

If association with groups tainted by racism is enough to debar students from taking office, then several supporters of pro-Palestinian groups might be affected.  The recent controversy at Vassar has been widely reported, and here’s another story from last year about students who promoted hateful messages at a demonstration.  The statements from students trying to justify their actions are just extraordinary.

As for the second stencil MY HEROES HAVE ALWAYS KILLED COLONIZERS, contrary to Benjamin’s claim, Palestinian students were not calling for the murder of Jews or Israelis … the stencil was not originally created to specifically target Israel. It was more inclusive of the plight of Indigenous people and their historical resistance everywhere.

Here, by (sane) contrast, is the response of Sunny Singh, who feels he was bullied when he ran for President of the UCLA student body.

Singh, 20, said he went on [a trip] sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League because he is a history and economics major and studies the region. He saw the trip as an opportunity to “see the region with my own eyes.”

During his eight-day trip, Singh, of Irvine, met with Israelis and Palestinian students. “I don’t think we talked about divestment once,” he said.

Yet divestment became a major topic during elections. Singh said he’s agnostic about whether the UC system should cut business ties with some companies but said he wishes student government spent more time concentrating on issues closer to home.

“I ran to increase efficiency and get more mental health resources on campus,” he said, “not because I wanted to weigh in on world affairs.