The University of California-Irvine (UCI) has softened the sanctions it levied against a student club with a history of disrupting on-campus events, after the group appealed its punishment for derailing a program last semester.
Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) successfully fought one of the three sanctions issued against them for shouting down Israel Defense Forces (IDF) reservists while they were on campus in May to give an interactive lecture on life in Israel as religious and ethnic minorities.
The administration overturned on Nov. 20 its original requirement that SJP meet with the dean of students two weeks prior to a holding an event, UCI spokesperson Tom Vasich told the Washington Free Beacon.
A two-year disciplinary probation, set to expire on Nov. 20, 2019, and a requirement that SJP meet with the dean six times a year to "discuss free-speech issues" during that time remain in place, said Vasich.
"Any further violations of university policy may result in suspension or a revocation of the organization's status," added Vasich.
Administrative action came after some 40 SJP-affiliated demonstrators held a sustained protest during the Q&A portion of the reservists' presentation, during which they chanted slogans advocating for Israel's elimination and accused the soldiers of "genocide." The protesters later lined the narrow hallway leading to the main exit of the building, forcing event organizers—a student club named Students Supporting Israel (SSI)—to call for a police escort to lead attendees out a side door.
UCI's chapter of SJP was sanctioned in summer 2016, as well, after dozens of activists organized outside a classroom screening a documentary abut the IDF and made threatening chants. One female student who arrived late for the film said she was chased by protesters into a nearby building, where she hid in fear and called 911.
SJP completed its one-year probationary period resulting from that incident only days before the group held the disruptive demonstration last semester.
Ilan Sinelnikov, cofounder of the national SSI organization, was disappointed UCI administrators modified the punishment.
"It's unfortunate they backed down again," said Sinelnikov. "Though it's still better than anything they have done before."
Sinelnikov believes SJP should lose it official club status.
"Even if they promised to let fair, free speech on Israel happen, I don't trust them," he said. "I look at the map of SSI chapters and there's not one campus with SJP where healthy Israel-Palestinian dialogue is happening."
At Indiana University Bloomington, where there is an SSI chapter but no SJP, events from a pro-Israel perspective have never been shouted down, said Sinelnikov.
At UCI, SSI remains under investigation for allegations that the IDF soldiers made discriminatory comments to the pro-Palestinian activists. SSI has rejected the charges as "ridiculous."
SJP claims to have nearly 200 chapters or affiliated group in the United States, and is the main organizer of anti-Israel on-campus activities. The group holds annual "Apartheid Weeks"—extended periods, usually in the spring, of concentrated programming purporting to expose Israeli war crimes perpetrated against Palestinians.