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, has sent a
letter to Jeff Reisig, the district attorney for Yolo County,
California, asking him to open criminal proceedings against the
protesters, who the rights group say violated California law.
In their letter to Reisig, the GFJC cite article 403 of the
California Penal Code, which prohibits protesters from deliberately
disturbing a lawful assembly or meeting.
Two Israelis - an IDF reservist and a Druze 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 Club.
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.
According to GFJC´s letter, one protester interrupted the speakers to
ask "how many women have you raped? How many children have you raped?"
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 allege in their letter to
That 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 note 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 their letter to the district attorney, the GFJC refer to a
previous case involving students at UC Irvine who disrupted a speech
by Israel´s Ambassador to the US, Michael Oren.
According to the LA 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 used article 403 of the California Penal Code.
"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
Leitner added that the request to prosecute the students was made
to "protect the marketplace of ideas on college campuses around the
“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.
Rather 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.
GFJC attorney Meir Katz added that a similar problem is prevalent on
“Similar groups around the country have adopted similar
illegal tactics, which makes it important that prosecutors
take swift and clear action," Katz said.
"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.”