Jewish student forced into hiding by Muslim protesters
- Eliana Kopley had to retreat from protesters who were attempting to gain entry to a Students Supporting Israel movie screening.
“Oh no, we’re in trouble,” Eliana Kopley thought to herself as she stood on the sidewalk in stocking feet, observing the hijabs sprinkled throughout the approaching mob.
Kopley, who was recently offered the position of Social Chair for the Students Supporting Israel group at the University of California, Irvine (UCI), told Campus Reform that she had stepped away from an SSI-sponsored screening of Beneath the Helmet to take a phone call from her mother when the group arrived, carrying protest signs and demanding to be allowed in to the screening.
The demonstrators were reportedly members of three different student groups—the Muslim Student Union, Black Student Union, and Students for Justice in Palestine—but only SJP has officially endorsed their actions, while the other groups have denied sanctioning their members’ participation.
“I walked up to them and informed them that we were having a movie screening and asked them not to interrupt,” she recalled. “It was a public event, and we do want to welcome anyone who wants to come, so I was hesitant to call the police,” she added, but said the hostility being displayed nonetheless made her nervous about acceding to their request for admittance.
“I tried to get back in the door, but the people inside were holding it closed to keep the mob out,” Kopley continued. “When I tried to get back in, one of the protesters said, 'if we're not allowed in there, you're not allowed in there,' and they blocked me from getting back in.”
Unable to reunite with her friends, and feeling increasingly apprehensive about the protesters surrounding her, Kopley said she “walked briskly around the corner” of the building, ducking into a random doorway to make her escape.
“It happened that the room was reserved for a reception, and the lady in charge recognized me,” Kopley reported, saying the organizer encouraged her to call campus police after hearing the chanting coming from outside the building.
“While I was on the phone with them, some of the protesters found out that I was in the room and started demanding to be let in, saying it was a public room,” but the organizer informed them that the room had, in fact, been reserved for a private event that evening, and refused to admit the protesters, telling Kopley to hide in a kitchen at the rear of the room with the lights off.
She remained on the phone with campus police while taking shelter in the kitchen, reporting that the dispatcher noted being able to hear the chanting over the phone, even though the protesters were on the other side of an exterior wall.
“While I was on the phone, a police officer arrived on the scene, but the protesters tried coming back to the room I was in once again. Finally, the police came to where I was, and two of them escorted me back into the room with my friends,” Kopley continued. “I wasn't going to leave them in a situation where they were practically hostages. They weren't exactly being held captive, but they couldn't safely leave the room without being screamed at or worse.”
For the next 45 minutes or so, Kopley told Campus Reform that a campus police officer remained in the room with the SSI students while they finished their film, escorting them to their cars in a nearby parking structure once it was concluded.
“I was just so lucky that someone recognized me and protected me when I ducked into that random room,” Kopley reflected. “I was so overwhelmed that I could barely comprehend what was happening.”
The real issue was not the fact of the protest itself, but rather the aggressive manner in which it was carried out, Kopley asserted, saying, “They're allowed to protest, but they're not allowed to intimidate us or corner us into a room. There's a line that they crossed. I haven't been this terrified in years.”
UCI Chancellor Howard Gillman agreed with that assessment, releasing a statement the following day stating that the demonstration “crossed the line of civility,” and reminding students that while the university supports free speech, “threats, harassment, incitement, and defamatory speech are not protected.”
IDF veteran Eran Izak, who was present at the screening to answer questions, told the Jewish News Service that the experience inside the room was similarly unnerving to the SSI members, saying the protesters "were banging on the glass and the door and we could hear screaming outside. The students had a look of panic on their faces--they were terrified."
Izak added that he wanted to speak up on behalf of the SSI students as the group was being escorted to the parking garage, but was cautioned against that course of action by police officers, who told him "Don't say anything, don't look at them, and go straight to your car."
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