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What's happening to the First Amendment at UCLA?

Los Angeles city prosecutor Spencer Hart, who is reviewing the belligerent shutdown of a Students Supporting Israel panel at the University of California-Los Angeles on May 17, 2018, has requested additional investigative materials from the UCLA Police, according to a prosecution source. The request on Case 18-1206 was transmitted to UCLA campus Detective Selby Arsena, who assembled the original investigative package submitted to Los Angeles Pacific Branch prosecutors in mid-July.

The request was seen as an indication that LA prosecutors are taking the case seriously and undertaking a thorough review. No timeline for a decision could be identified, prosecution sources say, because prosecutor Hart, who is second in command at the Pacific Branch, not only handles his own substantial case load, but as assistant supervising attorney, he also oversees the case loads of other prosecutors. However, since a one-year statute of limitations applies, investigative sources envision a decision on prosecution by year’s end.

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In the now well-known case, Students Supporting Israel gathered in a UCLA function room on May 17, 2018 for a panel discussion titled Indigenous Peoples Unite. Disrupters—suddenly and loudly—stormed into the room mid-session. One person tore down the students’ flag, demonstratively pulled away a desk placard, and cursed threateningly close to the face of a panelist. With bullhorns, whistles, staged dancing, and slogan shouting, the event was shut down. The disruption and nose-to-nose intimidation of the students attending the SSI event were documented in a video, beginning at minute 41.

After media revelations about UCLA’s initial inaction, two Jewish groups stepped up—the Louis D. Brandeis Center, headed by constitutional attorney Alyza Lewin, and the StandWithUs Saidoff Legal Department, headed by attorney Yael Lerman. The Washington-based Brandeis Center flew its attorney, Aviva Vogelstein, to LA. Together, Lerman and Vogelstein personally escorted numerous students as well as one member of the community into the UCLA police department, where they all filed formal complaints. These resulted in a formal referral of the incident to city prosecutors.

The failure of UCLA to act swiftly and transparently has been viewed by the larger Jewish and pro-Israel community as symptomatic of academic administrations across the nation that have allowed anti-Jewish and anti-Israel agitation to flourish and escalate to violence.

UCLA spokesman Tad Tamberg repeatedly declined to respond to questions, and his office has also instructed the UCLA police to not respond to questions by this reporter.

More than a few have compared the intensifying intimidation on campus to something approaching Brownshirt tactics in 1932, just before Hitler came to power. Nazi storm troopers would violently break up Jewish and anti-fascist meetings.

In an August 2, 2018 letter to prosecutor Hart, the Coalition for Jewish Values, representing some 1,000 conservative and orthodox rabbis, urged prosecution of the UCLA disrupters citing verisimilitude to the “Nazi Party in Germany and its Sturmabteilung (SA), the storm troopers or brownshirts.”

Facing university inaction across the nation, Jewish and pro-Israel groups have turned to the criminal code. Several organizations are preparing students and community members on other campuses to call 911 to initiate police investigations for referral to prosecutors.

Headlines were recently made at Stanford University when third-year student and former student senator Hamzeh Daoud, hired as a dorm residential advisor, issued the following Facebook warning: “im gonna physically fight zionists on campus next year if someone comes at me with their ‘Israel is democracy bullshit’ : ) and after i abolish your ass i’ll go ahead and work every day for the rest of my life to abolish your petty ass ethnosupremacist settler-colonial state.” In a Twitter post, Daoud reportedly wrote, “fuck your liberal Zionist ass. fuck your jewish state … Israel is a state that needs to be dismantled. Any other opinion is complicity.”

The Brandeis Center has been at the vanguard of the criminal referrals at UCLA and was quick to spring into action. Writing to Stanford president August Marc Tessier-Lavigne, Brandeis president Alyza Lewin insisted the threat was “so severe as to potentially violate … Title 11.5 of the California Penal Code, §422, ‘Punishment for threats’ [which] states: Any person who willfully threatens to commit a crime which will result in death or great bodily injury to another person, with the specific intent that the statement, made verbally, in writing, or by means of an electronic communication device, is to be taken as a threat, even if there is no intent of actually carrying it out … shall be punished by imprisonment … not to exceed one year.”

Likewise, the ZOA demanded, “Daoud’s actions be reported to law enforcement for possible criminal prosecution.”

The Israel Group, headed by Jack Saltzberg, went further and directly petitioned Santa Clara District Attorney Jeffrey F. Rosen to commence prosecution under the same 422 penal code statute known as the “Threat Law,” and to add a second count under 422.55, California’s “Hate Crime” statute. “Mr. Daoud’s threat is exacerbated by his being employed by Stanford on the campus as a Residential Assistant,” Saltzberg wrote. In an interview, Saltzberg said his group was bypassing the police and going directly to prosecutors because Stanford students “are not willing to file a complaint. Most are afraid to even go on record using their name regarding their thoughts.” The Israel Group has located just one student who “may be willing to file a complaint,” but the individual is still “undecided.”

On July 31, 2018, the Pennsylvania law firm of Marcus & Auerbach wrote to Stanford on behalf of a student “client [who] wishes to remain anonymous out of concern for his/her physical safety.” The firm demanded Stanford take action against Daoud.

Other organizations, such as StandWithUs, are already arranging for students at various campuses who have been intimidated to walk into police stations and file complaints.

Seeking a national “911 on campus” strategy against intimidation, the Brandeis Center is now assembling a catalog of relevant criminal statutes in all fifty states, to be itemized in a handy guide to be distributed to students nationwide.

As students prepare for the fall, many organizations have decided to draw a line in the sand at the May 17 UCLA incident.

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