Pro-Palestinian activists turned violent last Wednesday night as they protested a pro-Israel movie screening at University of California, Irvine (UCI), and in the process hunted down a Jewish woman who was forced to hide and call for police rescue.
At least 50 anti-Israel protesters from the Muslim Student Union and the group Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at UCI physically blocked the screening of "Beneath The Helmet," a documentary about the IDF shown in an event hosted by Students Supporting Israel at UCI as part of a series of Peace Week events.
The protesters blocked the exits to the screening while shouting "long live the intifada," as well as other "profanity-laced chants" according to the Orange County Register. The Jewish students were forced to call police, who escorted them to safety.
Detailing the epithets further, Students Supporting Israel at UCI wrote on Facebook that the protesters "were in violation of UC Regents Hate Speech policy and were shouting various anti-Semitic statements."
The anti-Israeli groups for their part termed their violent demonstration a "success," and tried to justify their behavior by claiming to be "threatened" by the presence of two ex-IDF soldiers at the event.
"Today we successfully demonstrated against the presence of IDF soldiers on campus," wrote SJP at UCI on its Facebook last Wednesday.
"The presence of IDF and police threatened our coalition of Arab, black, undocumented, trans, and the greater activist community. Thank you to all that came out and bravely spoke out against injustice. #UCIntifada," they wrote, creating a hashtag with the term "intifada" that is used to refer to Palestinian terror wars.
"I was terrified"
Eliana Kopley, a sophomore student at the school, was forced to run and hide to prevent the protesters from physically assaulting her.
Kopley had left a Holocaust event and walked to the screening of the IDF movie, but when she arrived there she found the angry mob pounding on the doors and windows while shouting hostile chants.
“I was terrified. There is no other word to describe how I felt,” Kopley said while speaking to the school's Haym Salomon Center.
She recalled that the crowd was shouting "intifada, intifada - long live the intifada!," and "f*** Israel!" Kopley began walking away from the mob.
However, a group of female student protesters began following her, forcing her to escape into a nearby room and hide.
“When I turned back, at that moment, I looked at one of the girls and wanted to hide and cry,” Kopley said. She noted that she had her mother on the phone during the entire incident.
"My mom keeps asking what’s going on. But I couldn’t even say complete sentences. All I managed to say was ‘protesters’ and she started yelling at me to call the cops."
Heeding her mother's advice, Kopley called the police and as the protesters chanted louder she stayed on the line with 911 until an officer found her.
Two officers donned black rubber gloves to protect them from knives and other sharp objects the protesters may have been hiding, and escorted her through the hostile crowd to the film screening.
Chancellor warns protesters "crossed the line"
Responding to the incident, the campus's chancellor Howard Gillman issued an email to the entire school on Thursday, warning that the protest "crossed the line of civility."
"A group of protesters reportedly disrupted the event, blocking exit paths. Participants feared for their safety, calling on our police force for assistance," he noted.
"While this university will protect freedom of speech, that right is not absolute. As I mentioned in a campus message at the beginning of the academic year (freespeech.uci.edu), threats, harassment, incitement and defamatory speech are not protected. We must shelter everyone’s right to speak freely – without fear or intimidation – and allow events to proceed without disruption and potential danger."
Gillman said school officials are examining reports on the incident to decide whether legal actions should be launched in response.
UCI has a history of anti-Semitic incidents. In March the Board of Regents adopted a document against intolerance that defined anti-Zionism as discrimination, although the move has not ended the wave of anti-Semitic incidents perpetrated by anti-Israel groups on campus.