UCI reviews pro-Palestinian student group’s protest during Israeli veterans panel

Tensions between two UC Irvine student groups continue after a protest led by a Palestinian support group interrupted an on-campus event presented by an Israeli support group. The incident is under review by university administrators.

Students Supporting Israel sponsored a May 10 panel featuring Israeli military veterans. During a Q&A period, about 40 members of Students for Justice in Palestine arrived at the Student Center and began asking questions. The discussion became heated, with shouting and chanting for several minutes, according to a statement from the university on Tuesday.

Assistant Vice Chancellor Edgar Dormitorio, who helped moderate the discussion, contacted the UCI Police Department, but the protesters left before police arrived. Officers escorted the panelists to the parking lot after the event, according to the statement. No arrests were made.

“UCI campus leadership immediately met to discuss the situation,” the statement said. “The Office of Academic Integrity & Student Conduct is reviewing the incident and will make a recommendation on the appropriate course of action, if any. There is no outcome at this time and the review process is ongoing.”

“UCI actively supports diverse views and civil discourse,” the statement added. “We stress thoughtful, respectful dialogue with the idea that unfettered speech is more powerful when accompanied by respect for others.”

UCI spokesman Tom Vasich said he could provide no further details until after the review is completed.

Videos of the incident have surfaced online. Protesters can be heard chanting, “Israel, Israel, you can’t hide. We charge you with genocide” and “Hey hey, ho ho, these colonizers have got to go.”

Groups on both sides expressed frustration with how the university handled the incident.

It was the second time in a year that Students for Justice in Palestine interrupted an event presented by Students Supporting Israel.

In May 2016, the group disrupted a screening of a film about Israeli soldiers. UCI administrators later said the Palestine group violated student conduct policies, though the university said several other allegations of wrongdoing were unfounded.

The group was given a warning that its behavior was under increased scrutiny and that another violation could lead to harsher consequences.

Now, Students Supporting Israel is calling on the university to suspend the Palestinian support group for an academic year and took to Facebook to encourage students to email UCI Vice Chancellor Thomas Parham.

“We want the university to take action against them and the students involved,” Kevin Brum, president of Students Supporting Israel, said Tuesday. “They received a warning last year and they (interrupted) our event again. There’s a clear and present pattern to clearly disrupt.”

Brum said that before the Palestinian supporters were let in, he told them they could enter as long as they remained respectful of the Q&A format and promised not to be disruptive.

Brum said group members nodded in agreement.

Students for Justice in Palestine issued a statement saying it “protested and disrupted” the event to show that the Israeli veterans were unwelcome on campus because they “enforce Zionist settler colonialism and military occupation of Palestinian land by the Israeli nation-state.”

The group’s questions were aimed at the panelists, the statement said, not toward UCI students or Students Supporting Israel.

The group’s statement alleged that a camerawoman, a non-UCI student, tried to assault one of its members and that Dormitorio was “protecting (the panelists) and not the students” because he didn’t ask the camerawoman to leave.

Priscella.Vega@latimes.com

Twitter: @vegapriscella

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