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CAIR-LA: 19 Interfaith, Civil Rights Groups Urge UCLA to Protect Academic Freedom and Freedom of Speech

(LOS ANGELES, CA – 3/20/2020) – The Greater Los Angeles Area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-LA) today joined a coalition of 19 interfaith and civil rights in calling on UCLA to protect free speech and academic freedom in response to the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights’ (OCR) decision to open investigations into two complaints made against the university. 

The OCR’s investigations are in line with a larger effort to silence any individuals or groups on American campuses that voice support for the dignity and self-determination of Palestinians, opposition to Israeli policy or politics or opposition to Israel’s discriminatory apartheid practices against Palestinians.

The first complaint the OCR is investigating focused on UCLA’s handling of student concerns over a guest lecture in May 2019 on “Islamophobia and the attacks against Palestine organizing and scholarship” by Professor Rabab Abdulhadi in Professor Kyeyoung Park’s “Constructing Race” course, which is offered through the Anthropology, African American Studies and Asian American Studies departments.

UCLA’s internal investigation of the complaint, which included reviewing a recording of the lecture and interviews with students enrolled in the class, concluded that “the comments made during the lecture were not the type of severe, pervasive and persistent unwelcome conduct that constitutes harassment or discrimination.” 

The second complaint being investigated by the OCR was filed in November of 2018 by the Zachor Legal Institute regarding the 2018 National Students for Justice in Palestine Conference, which was hosted by UCLA’s Students for Justice in Palestine at the university. This complaint came after a months-long pressure campaign demanding that UCLA infringe on students’ free speech rights by cancelling the conference.

In a letter to UCLA Chancellor Gene D. Block, the coalition wrote in part:

“The current OCR investigations emerge in an alarming, widespread, and targeted attack on speech, scholarship, and activism on justice in/for Palestine intended to stop criticism of Israel.  Conflating support for Palestinian freedom with antisemitism is a now common, but cynical, tactic aimed at silencing those who advocate for justice in/for Palestine.”

READ: Letter to UCLA Chancellor Gene D. Block

The letter explained that anti-Palestinian individuals and organizations have attempted to silence activism in support of Palestine through false claims that such pro-Palestinian activism is discriminatory and harassing. These individuals and organizations use negative publicity and intimidation as tools against university administrators and student and faculty activists as a means to stifle free speech and the free interchange of ideas when it comes to supporting Palestine.

The coalition called on the school’s administration to unequivocally reaffirm UCLA’s commitment to freedom of speech for students, staff and faculty when advocating for Palestinian human rights.

The letter to Chancellor Block concluded:

“We write today to urge you to issue a public statement making it clear that UCLA will defend against the OCR investigations and by extension defend the voices of all students, so that free speech and academic freedom can continue to flourish at UCLA.”

The coalition includes the Greater Los Angeles Area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-LA), Palestine Legal, Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI), American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), National Lawyers Guild of Los Angeles, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Buena Vista United Methodist Church, the Department of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University,  National Students for Justice in Palestine (NSJP), the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights (USCPR), National Black Education Agenda, the National Lawyers Guild, California Scholars for Academic Freedom (CS4AF), the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization/Pastors for Peace (IFCO), ADC, UCLA4COLA and the International Campaign to Defend Professor Rabab Abdulhadi.

Students and community members to report any bias incidents to police and to CAIR-LA’s Civil Rights Department at 714-776-1177 or by filing a report at:

CAIR-LA is Southern California’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. Its mission is to enhance understanding of Islam, protect civil rights, promote justice and empower American Muslims. 

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CONTACT: CAIR-LA Communications Manager Eugene W. Fields, 714-851-4851 or

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