A US civil rights legal group called on Tuesday for pro-Palestinian student
protesters who interrupted a pro-Israel event at University of California, Davis
last month to be prosecuted.
The Global Frontier Justice Center in
Brooklyn, New York, sent a letter to Jeff Reisig, the district attorney for Yolo
County, California, asking him to open criminal proceedings against the
protesters, whom the rights group says violated California law.
letter to Reisig, the GFJC cited Article 403 of the California Penal Code, which
prohibits protesters from deliberately disturbing a lawful assembly or
Two Israelis – an IDF reservist and a Druse woman whose father
and brother served in the IDF – were due to speak at the UC Davis event,
organized by StandWithUs, Chabad of Davis and the Chai-Life
However, activists from campus-based pro- Palestinian and Islamic
groups, including Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and the Muslim Student
Association became hostile and heckled the speakers, attorney Kenneth Leitner,
GFJC’s director said.
One protester interrupted the speakers to ask “how
many women have you raped? How many children have you raped?” according to
When the speaker asked that protester if he wanted to
talk, he replied that he wanted the Israelis to “shut up and get out,” adding
that “you’re going to have to kill me to shut me up [you] rapist, child
molester, [and] murderer,” GFJC alleges in its letter to Reisig.
protester also said he had come to the event to shut it down, because the
speakers had “turned Palestine into a land of prostitutes, rapists and child
molesters,” the GFJC said.
“It’s not simply offensive to the free speech
and association rights of the speakers and their sponsors,” said Leitner. “It’s
a crime and it should be prosecuted.”
The GFJC notes that while the
protesters themselves also have a constitutional right to free speech, that
“does not include a right to prevent others from speaking.”
In its letter
to the district attorney, the GFJC referred to a previous case involving
students at UC Irvine who disrupted a speech by Israeli Ambassador to the US
According to the The Los Angeles Times, in February last
year, the Orange County district attorney’s office charged 11 of those UC Irvine
protesters with conspiring to disrupt a meeting and speech by the Israeli
That case also cited Article 403 of the California Penal
“We encourage you to prosecute these protesters just as your
colleagues did in Orange County,” the GFJC’s letter adds. “By doing so, you will
be working to ensure that speech – even controversial speech – remains possible
on college campuses such as UC Davis.”
The GFJC director described the
California law against disrupting lawful events as “a good law” that “ensures
the freedom of speech and association.”
Leitner added that the request to
prosecute the students was made to “protect the marketplace of ideas on college
campuses around the country.”
“Pro-Israel groups, just like
pro-Palestinian groups and environmental groups and the chess club, need to be
able to organize and communicate with their constituents without having to shout
over someone whose only objective is to end discussion,” he said.
than try to shut down the pro- Israel event, the protesters could have chosen to
hold their own counter-lecture or even to sit-in on the Israeli lectures as a
peaceful protest, without interrupting it, Leitner noted.
Meir Katz added that a similar problem is prevalent on other
“Similar groups around the country have adopted similar illegal
tactics, which makes it important that prosecutors take swift and clear action,”
“The First Amendment protects the speech of protesters just
like it protects the speech of the speakers and their sponsors,” added Katz.
“But freedom of speech doesn’t give you the right to stifle someone else’s
speech. Just like you can’t yell ‘fire’ in a crowded theater, you can’t yell at
all during someone’s speech if the reason you’re doing it is to get that person
to stop speaking.”
The GFJC has requested that the district attorney
respond to its request by the end of April.