WESTWOOD — Around three in the morning Thursday, while the 93 arrested at the USC Gaza solidarity encampment were still being processed at Metro and 77th Street police stations, UCLA organizers began setting up an encampment of their own on Royce Quad. 

By mid-morning, dozens of tents dotted the lawn, surrounded by wooden pallets and signs. Unlike at USC and other universities across the country this week, where videos show law enforcement brutalizing protesters (in Boston, a sanitation crew was caught power-washing blood off the brick), Los Angeles police officers have kept their distance so far.

The encampment, first reported on by UCLA’s student newsroom The Daily Bruin, stands at the time of publication, but counter-protesters shouted at the activists throughout the afternoon and evening Thursday, threatening to storm over the pallets; in one instance, a counter-protester grabbed a member of the encampment and threw her onto the turf. 

“The counter-protesters are doing all this because they’re rabid dogs, and they’re cornered, so they’re lashing out,” a speaker said through a bullhorn in the early afternoon. 

In a statement to LA Public Press, UCLA’s vice chancellor for strategic communications, Mary Osako, said that the school follows the University of California systemwide policy in their approach to not involving law enforcement “pre-emptively.”

“We’ve taken several steps to help ensure people on campus know about the demonstration so they can avoid the area if they wish,” Osako said. “This includes having student affairs representatives stationed near Royce quad to let Bruins and visitors know about the encampment, redirect them if desired and to serve as a resource for their needs.”

According to Professor Hannah Appel, faculty arrived at the camp to de-escalate the situation and sent eye-witness accounts to the university stressing that the counter-protesters were the aggressors. Counter-protestors left late last night, but some returned before dawn this morning to blast music at the encampment. 

“None of the instigators were students,” said Appel, who is a member of Faculty for Justice in Palestine. “I don’t know who those counterprotesters are. Many are beyond school age.”

UCLA may try to clear the encampment with police this weekend if fewer people are present, junior administrators told freelance reporter Michael Flores.

Israel has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians since October, mostly women and children, according to local health officials. A famine in the region is imminent, the United Nations said in March. University divestment encampments spread across the country in the last week while Gazans uncovered hundreds of bodies in mass graves, including the corpses of medical workers — in surgical gowns — and children.

Police have arrested more than 400 at university protests so far. At Cal Poly Humboldt, organizers continue to occupy university buildings, warding off police, in one instance, with smacks from an empty water jug. 

The coalition behind the UCLA Palestine Solidarity Encampment includes the university’s chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace, and the UC Divest Coalition. They’re making five demands of UCLA and the broader UC system:

  • “Disclose” investments in Israel and complicit companies and institutions; 
  • “Divest” from those companies and institutions; 
  • “Abolish policing” by ending the “targeted repression” of Palestinian advocacy on campus and by severing ties with the LAPD; 
  • “End the silence” by calling for an immediate and permanent ceasefire and an end to the occupation and genocide in Palestine; 
  • and “boycott” Israel by severing all UC-wide connections to Israeli universities, including study-abroad programs, and by shutting down the school’s Nazarian Center for Israel Studies. 

The UC system is not new to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. As far back as 2012, the UC Students Association, which represents members of student government from all 10 UC campuses, passed a resolution to affirm the right of its members to organize in favor of BDS sanctions against Israel. UCLA’s Undergraduate Students Association Council and its Graduate Students Association both passed resolutions in favor of BDS earlier this year

The encampment is an extension of past student protest at the school, said organizer Vincent Doehr. 

In 1969, UCLA declared a state of emergency when thousands of students, including UCLA basketball players, tried to shut down the campus to protest the Vietnam War. “They broke windows, tried to set the [Reserve Officer Training Corps] building ablaze, and scuffled with university police, who in turn called for help from the LAPD,” Mike Davis and Jon Wiener wrote in Set the Night On Fire: LA in the Sixties. The LAPD sent in 500 officers and hospitalized twelve students. 

The solidarity encampment sits outside Royce Hall, where — also in 1969 — Angela Davis lectured to a crowd of more than 2,000 after the U.C. regents fired her for being a member of the communist party. 

In response to that period of activism, California Governor Ronald Reagan launched the state’s own divestment campaign from public higher education. (“What Reagan did in that moment was consult with a guy on the UCLA campus named Buchanan, and it was Buchanan who said to him, ‘Make ‘em pay, they’ll quiet down,” UC Berkeley Professor Wendy Brown explained in the Astra Taylor documentary You Are Not A Loan.)

In 1985, huge student rallies at UCLA helped force UC divestment from South African apartheid. 

That was the “first iteration of the UC divest coalition, which is now the group pushing for divestment from Israel,” said graduate student Vincent Doehr. “Now the UC acts like they always opposed apartheid.” 

UCLA alone controls more than $5 billion in assets. The University of California Retirement Plan, a pension managed by the UC system, controls more than $88 billion in assets, per a holdings disclosure from June of last year.

That includes more than $427 million in a BlackRock portfolio. BlackRock invests in Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and other corporations manufacturing weapons that Israel is using in Gaza. 

BlackRock also invests in Elbit Systems, an Israeli weapons manufacturer “blacklisted” by Deutsche Bank, HSBC, and other financial giants over “cluster munitions and broader ethical concerns relating to activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories,” writes Responsible Investor. Cluster munitions — explosives that release smaller munitions — are notorious for killing and maiming civilians.  

UCLA medical students, who requested anonymity to protect against retaliation, said their work means they’re morally obligated to protest the university.

Even though “Zionism is rampant in the medical school” and students have been doxxed by professors, “war is not something we can be silent about,” a medical student said. “We’re in the profession of easing suffering.”

Just what weapons UCLA is buying Israel is impossible to know until the university discloses its investments, said Benjamin Kersten, a graduate student and an organizer with Jewish Voice for Peace. 

“On the way towards full divestment from weapons manufacturing, we need real commitments to screens of what’s being invested now, and commitments to more just and democratic [investment] practices,” he said. 

“There are so many material ties” between UCLA and Israel, said professor Hannah Appel, including labs producing weapons and chemicals for the Department of Defense. 

In February, UCLA faculty embarked on a “solidarity mission” to Israel and met with President Isaac Herzog. 

Another trip, led by UCLA Hillel, will head to Israel in June, according to an itinerary shared with LA Public Press. 

On the fourth day of their trip, faculty will make “A drive to Ramallah, West Bank [PENDING Security Situation]” and “Visit the Israeli towns near the border with Gaza [PENDING Security Situation],” the itinerary says. 

“With so much discourse on campus about the issue, we wanted to help facilitate the experience for a group to visit and explore the complexities themselves,” Hillel Executive Director Dan Gold wrote in an email to a faculty member. 

Gold’s formal invitation to faculty, dated March 4, says “Israel shares many characteristics and challenges with Los Angeles and California,” like being a “home to diverse immigrant communities.” 

UCLA also collaborates with the LAPD, a connection stressed by organizers following the arrests at USC this week. While Israel and the U.S. military carry out a war of imperialism abroad, police forces locally quash dissent — while UCLA helps facilitate both efforts, said Kersten.

The university was a “lead investor” in PredPol, a predictive policing technology developed with the LAPD by UCLA anthropologist Jeffrey Brantingham. PredPol, a for-profit company, claims to predict crime in advance by using crime data to identify geographic “hot spots” for targeted policing. Abolitionists say it creates a “feedback loop” because policing those areas (typically in low-income neighborhoods of color) generates more crime data, which the algorithm uses to direct police back to that same area, generating more data. 

Days before the murder of George Floyd in 2020, UCLA scholars including Brantingham released a report applauding an LAPD community policing program, which then-councilmember Joe Buscaino used to argue against LAPD budget cuts that summer.  

“These are programs that are designed to suppress various types of popular resistance,” Benjamin Kersten said. 

Jack Ross is a writer based in Los Angeles.

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