Last Thursday on May 17, 2018 , Students Supporting Israel at UCLA (SSI) hosted an event meant to give a platform to three different indigenous communities to share the stories of their people. The indigenous groups represented were the Jewish, Kurdish, and Armenian populations, whose representatives eloquently shared an overview of their history, struggles, and aspirations from their personal perspectives. Each of these three individuals shared in common the feeling that their people are often ignored when speaking about their indigenous histories. Our hope was to create a space for dialogue for the similarities between the journeys that each of these nations have taken to combat persecution, oppression, and revisionism. Unfortunately, Students for Justice in Palestine at UCLA (SJP) had other plans for that night. In the middle of Armenian student-panelist Darion Ouliguian‘s speech on his personal ties to his indigenous homeland, an aggressive SJP disruption stormed into the classroom, marched towards Darion, and shouted “This is my f*ing flag.” The protester ripped down the Armenian flag, threw a placard with Darion’s name and the flags of the indigenous communities at the audience, and immediately began threatening Darion and challenging his Armenian identity. From there, SJP took this man’s abusive actions as an invitation to escalate the violence. This disturbing disruption included physically and verbally abusing panelists and the audience. Throughout the disruption, SJP actively denied the heritage and identity of the participants, threw objects at the audience, ripped down SSI’s Armenian and Israeli flags, and taunted the panelists. All the while, screeching chants that called Jews white-supremacists and called for the destruction of the state of Israel could be heard from the aggressors’ megaphones. After the disruption had continued for nearly 10 minutes, UCPD was forced to remove these individuals as they had violated the safety and first-amendment freedoms of those in the room. Once outside, the disruptors began banging on the door and threatening the students inside to further the point that SJP would use physical intimidation to prevent a discussion on indigeneity in which Jewish identity was included. By the request of the UCPD and in the interest of student safety, we were asked to rush through the event, skip the Q and A, and evacuate. 20 officers, some in riot gear, were required to escort us to safety. For their efforts, SJP responded by verbally attacking the officers. If it was not for their intervention, we fear that SJP’s aggression would have only continued; for this, we express our deepest gratitude to the UCPD.
What was the reasoning behind this aggression? As described by an SJP member, it was a lack of Palestinian inclusion on the panel that was the trigger. This is unequivocally false. When we offered them to sit down, join us for dinner, and discuss their grievances, SJP responded with whistles and megaphone chants that included “We don’t want two states; we want ‘48” and “No peace on stolen land.” When it was offered to wave the Palestinian flag alongside the Israeli flag as a sign of peace and unity, we were met again with taunts and whistles. SJP made their intentions very clear: to actively deny Jewish indigeneity by any means necessary. In essence, the disruption was not about Palestinian exclusion from the event but instead about the inclusion of Armenian, Jewish, and Kurdish voices in the discussion of indigeneity. No student should be subject to the traumatizing display that SJP exacted on the participants in a discussion about indigenous cultural histories. No student should have their heritage challenged for political gain. No student should have to be escorted to safety from a campus event for celebrating their identity. No student should be made to feel physically unsafe at any university, let alone our university. Every student has a right to celebrate who they are and express their first-amendment freedoms in a safe environment. On Thursday night, SJP robbed students of that right. As the leaders of the pro-Israel community of UCLA, we are proud of our community’s poise and unity in response to Thursday’s disruption. We call upon the administration to take the appropriate measures in making sure this does not happen again and to punish the offenders. Students Supporting Israel at UCLA will never allow ourselves to be discouraged by those who choose intimidation over conversation. We will not be silenced.