Organized disruptors–both students and non-students—who shut down a pro-Israel gathering at University of California Los Angeles in May 2018 might not be prosecuted, according to information from LA City Attorney Mike Feuer’s office. Instead, they will be called to a confidential but mandatory proceeding called a “City Attorney Hearing,” an alternative to prosecution which can be described as a “warning” not to repeat the conduct. One legal expert compared it to a “deferred prosecution,” but stressed a full trial could still result.
Victims generally do not appear at such a hearing, the City Attorney’s office explained, and generally no criminal record attaches. Still, the prosecutor retains the right to issue charges later if he feels the illegal conduct has recurred or may recur. Los Angeles conducts hundreds of such closed-door hearings each year to dispose of minor misdemeanors arising from, for example, neighbor disputes, domestic disharmony, or curfew violations.
To the south of Los Angeles, newly-installed Orange County Prosecutor Todd Spitzer is still undecided about prosecuting rambunctious disruptors of a pro-Israel event at University of California Irvine which also took place last May, according to official university sources. Spitzer’s office has asked for additional police investigation to develop more facts.
With or without actual prosecution, the two incidents and the Jewish community’s response have potentially changed the landscape for belligerent disruption of pro-Israel events on California campuses, which last year arguably yielded some of the most pernicious in the nation. Those involved in the two California events—the affected students and the Jewish communal groups who rose to invoke prosecutions—expressed a range of reactions as to whether justice has been minimally obtained or seriously delayed.
StandWithUs and Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law pivotally intervened to jump-start the criminal referral process on both UC campuses. Roz Rothstein, StandWithUs CEO, commented, “It shows good progress that the [Los Angeles] authorities are holding the disruptors accountable for attempting to remove the freedom of speech from those they disagree with.”
Alyza Lewin, president of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, added, “We are gratified by this development. At long last, the universities are holding responsible the perpetrators of these egregious event disruptions. We trust this will deter similar behavior in the future and demonstrate that universities must take such criminal conduct seriously.”
A spokesperson for Canary Mission, the anonymous online watchdog that closely monitored both cases, commented, “This is not a strong enough response.” Justin Feldman, president of Students Supporting Israel, himself victimized by the harassment, agreed, stating, “As one of the proponents of the effort to hold disruptors accountable at UCLA, I am deeply disappointed that such accused students will merely face a ‘slap on the wrist’ for their deliberate misconduct in silencing student voices on campus.”
Outrage first emerged after two separate but particularly belligerent disruptions of pro-Israel UC student events in May 2018. On May 7, College Republicans at UCI, hosting Israeli reservists, saw their session shattered by a sudden invasion (see video at minute 42:00) of bullhorn-wielding BDS advocates chanting anti-Israel slogans. A few days later, on May 17, Students Supporting Israel at UCLA sponsored an outreach panel discussion with indigenous students only to have it violently shut down (see video at 41:00) by nose-to-nose BDS harassment. Both dramatic disruptions were captured on viral video.
For Jewish students and legal defense groups, the two egregious incidents were the tipping point of campus harassment at UC schools. The consensus among Jewish leadership and students was that the school administrations had consciously created a permissive anti-Israel atmosphere so toxic that it virtually encouraged increasingly severe forms of anti-Israel harassment. At UCI, the video shows bull-horn disruption going for several minutes as police and university administrators watched.
Disruption of public meetings explicitly violates California law. Three statutes pertain.
Title 11, Sec. 403 concerns event disruption. “Every person who … willfully disturbs or breaks up any assembly or meeting … is guilty of a misdemeanor.” This was the very statute used to successfully prosecute and convict the “Irvine 11.” Title 11, Sec. 415 involves disturbing the peace. The statute calls for jail time for “any person who maliciously and willfully disturbs another person by loud and unreasonable noise.” Title 11, Sec. 182, a conspiracy statute, can be invoked when “two or more persons conspire to commit any crime.”
Initially, both UCLA and UCI administrations declined to refer the incidents to the police for investigation and prosecution. This reinforced the belief that the permissive environment on campus actually promoted harassment as a bizarre species of free speech. Moreover, the legal system itself permits the universities to exercise broad discretion—allowing them to simply look the other way.
California’s unusual state laws juridically enable the universities to potentially create a double standard and promote unequal justice. The UC administration can decide who shall be referred to its own police force, and who shall be given a pass, or subjected to so-called “academic discipline.” No referral to the police means no referral to prosecutors.
(To Be Continued Next Week)
Edwin Black is the New York Times bestselling author of IBM and the Holocaust and Financing the Flames. He can be followed @Edwinblackbook. Anyone with information regarding disruptions at any UC campus may send it confidentially to [email protected].