Anti-Israel activists aggressively disrupt UCLA panel

A group of anti-Israel activists aggressively derailed a discussion panel last week at the University of California-Los Angeles by flooding the venue with confrontational protesters. 

The protesters, who are alleged to be affiliated with Students for Justice in Palestine and the Revolutionary Communist Party of America, interrupted an “Indigenous Peoples Unite” event put on by Students Supporting Israel (SSI) at UCLA on May 17, loudly yelling and physically intimidating the panelists. 

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The event was billed as a place for the “sharing of stories” from Armenian, Kurdish, and Jewish communities. One attendee of the event, who described himself as a “neutral third party, interested in learning,” told Campus Reform that “the conversation had nothing to do with Israel or Zionism,” a report corroborated by SSI President Hirmand Daniel Sarasfian.

“Three different Middle Eastern indigenous communities will stand united in sharing the stories of their people—giving an overview of their history, struggles, and aspirations,” the description of the event read. “Discussions will center around these peoples' efforts in battling controversy, oppression, and revisionism.”

About forty minutes after the start of the discussion panel, however, dozens of protesters stormed into the room, aggressively confronting the speakers and preventing them from continuing the event.

Part of the intrusion was captured on video and later posted to Facebook by the Israel on Campus Coalition. The protest included megaphone chants, loud music, whistles, dancing, and destruction of property that was used for the event. 

Shortly after entering the room, the intruders started chanting anti-Israel and pro-Palestine slogans, including “justice is our demand, no peace on stolen land,” and “we don’t want two states, we want ’48,” referring to the founding of Israel in 1948.

One student was seen running up to the panel, tearing down a flag that was hanging behind the speakers, and directly shouting at one of the panelists while standing inches away from his face. A brief scuffle ensued after a member of SSI tried to retrieve the Israeli flag, which had been thrown on the ground. 

SSI’s board members attempted to mitigate the conflict by offering the protesters a voice in the event and a chance to hold a conversation between the two parties, even inviting them to hang the Palestinian flag in a place of honor and attend a dinner that was being provided by SSI for attendees of the event. 

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The protesters, however, refused to engage in a dialogue and continued to disrupt the event for about ten minutes before being escorted out by campus police. 

“UCLA’s police stand on the side of racism, UCLA’s police stand on the side of terrorism, UCLA’s police stand on the side of the terrorist state of Israel,” one protester shouted while leaving the premises.

After being removed from the event, the activists continued their demonstration by repeatedly chanting, shouting, cheering, whistling, and beating on a glass window of the venue.  

According to Sasfarian, police asked SSI to hurry the event for the participants’ safety, and later called in about 20 officers, some wearing riot gear, to escort attendees to their cars. 

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A Students for Justice in Palestine at UCLA representative denied the group’s involvement in the protest, asserting that the organization had nothing to do with the demonstration. 

“Claims that SJP organized the protest are false,” the representative told Campus Reform. “We did not initiate nor have a significant hand in organizing the demonstration. Per usual, everything that happens on campus is blamed on our organization by default, so we expect nothing less from Israel advocacy groups...none of our board members attended the event.” 

SJP’s claim is contested by representatives of SSI, who allege that “Robert Gardner, the leader of Students for Justice in Palestine, was at the protest,” and that “he appears in several of the videos taken of the event.” Gardner did not immediately respond to Campus Reform’s request for comment. 

Sasfarian also noted that a number of the protesters were wearing shirts advertising the Revolutionary Communist Party of America, and held signs displaying communist slogans and the party’s website. 

“The most disturbing thing to me, besides the initial violence, was that the protesters were calling Jews white supremacists,” he observed. “Any time you compare Jews to Nazis you’re in the wrong.”

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Several attendees would only speak with Campus Reform on condition of anonymity, stating that they feared a backlash for speaking out against the demonstrators. 

“I was deeply disturbed by the protest,” one attendee said. “[The event] wasn’t about the Palestinian conflict or anything, and it seemed like it was being interrupted because Students Supporting Israel put it on.” 

Another attendee described the protest as “unsettling” and admitted to fearing a larger display of violence. The demonstration was subsequently condemned by numerous campus organization and harshly criticized by an online petition that currently has close to 1,500 signatures.

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A university spokesperson told Campus Reform in an email that “UCLA is deeply disappointed that protesters disrupted a May 17th student event that focused on the experiences of Jewish, Armenian and Kurdish indigenous communities.” 

“This incident left many students feeling silenced and intimidated, and it dishonored UCLA’s commitment to the free and robust exchange of ideas,” the official added. “University officials and police arrived on the scene promptly, and the disruption ended without physical injury. Campus officials are carefully reviewing the incident to determine precisely what happened, who among the protesters are affiliated with UCLA, and how to appropriately respond.” 

Conversely, when asked whether SJP would condemn the tactics employed by protesters at last week’s event, a spokesperson for the group told Campus Reform that “we can not in good faith condemn the disruption of the event.” 

“It seems that many campus and community members, especially Armenians, took offense to the event and acted accordingly,” the representative continued. “And given that Israel has refused to recognize the Armenian genocide for geopolitical purposes, coupled with decades of Israel advocacy groups lobbying the US against recognizing the Armenian Genocide—and sometimes, downright engaging in denial—we can not condemn the anger and passion of those offended by SSI's event.”

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