Protest at UC Santa Cruz calls for ‘destruction of Israel,’ blocks entrance to campus for hours

A large pro-Palestinian protest at UC Santa Cruz Thursday brought about 400 people to the base of campus near its main entrance, while some of the language used by demonstrators concerned Jewish campus leaders for its calls to violence, the campus Hillel said.

The “Shut it down for Palestine” protest was replicated across the country including in New York City, where thousands of demonstrators blocked traffic in midtown Manhattan. Protests were planned in a number of cities, including Los Angeles, San Diego, Philadelphia, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Columbia, South Carolina, according to the Jewish News Syndicate. About 20 people also gathered outside the state Capitol in Sacramento.

The groups organizing the “Shut it down for Palestine” movement include the Palestinian Youth Movement, Students for Justice in Palestine, the Answer Coalition and the People’s Forum, according to the demonstration’s website. The Party for Socialism and Liberation and the anti-Zionist group Jewish Voice for Peace are also involved, JNS reported.

Demonstrators are demanding an “immediate ceasefire, cutting all aid to Israel, and lifting the siege on Gaza,” the website states. Another day of protest is planned for Nov. 17.

In an email to the Santa Cruz Hillel community on Thursday night, executive director Becka Ross and board president Chuck Smith reported that the event “escalated quickly” and that demonstrators blocked the main entrance to campus for six hours. According to a report in the Mercury News, “cars, trucks and buses were backed up for hundreds of feet” until vehicles were slowly allowed through with the help of protesters and police officers. University staff and police officers also helped create a detour around the demonstration.

UC Santa Cruz has about 17,000 undergraduates and another 2,000 graduate students. The Santa Cruz Sentinel estimated the crowd size at the protest and reported students, faculty and “community members” attended.

Protesters called for a cease-fire in the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, which began on Oct. 7 when Hamas massacred more than 1,400 people in Israel and took an estimated 240 people into Gaza as hostages. The protesters carried signs such as “Land you have to kill for is not yours” and called for the elimination of Israel, according to Hillel leadership and a copy of the demonstration’s “chant sheet.”

“Universities should be a place for learning, discovering yourself, and grappling with difficult issues,” Hillel’s statement said. “Today’s protest deprived students of that. By blocking the entrance to the campus, students trying to attend classes and midterm exams were unable to access the campus.”

Hillel’s statement also condemned the language used by protesters.

“The rhetoric at the protest justified and celebrated the torture and slaughter of Jews and Israelis, and openly called for the destruction of Israel and the annihilation of the seven million Jews who live there,” according to Hillel.

A screenshot of a “chant sheet” used by “Shut it down for Palestine” accuses Israel of “genocide,” calls it a “terrorist state” and encourages people to “redeem Palestine” with “our blood.”

Students for Justice in Palestine at UC Santa Cruz shared a sheet of anti-Zionist chants on its Instagram story.
Students for Justice in Palestine at UC Santa Cruz shared a sheet of anti-Zionist chants on its Instagram story.

“No peace on stolen land!” one of the chants read. “With our souls and with our blood, we will redeem Palestine,” another said, translated from Arabic. A third said, also translated from Arabic, “Our beloved people join us, our people have sacrificed their blood.”

Jewish students affiliated with Hillel steered clear of the protest. During the demonstration, Hillel students met for a bi-weekly “Schmear and Schmooze” social event in the campus library, while they waited “for assurance that the demonstration was remaining at the base of the campus” near the main entrance, according to Hillel.

Jewish and pro-Israel students on U.S. college campuses have faced harassment and intimidation from pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel movements since Oct. 7. Last month at Cooper Union, a private college in New York City, Jewish students “were locked in their school’s library for 20 minutes,” New York Jewish Week reported, while pro-Palestinian demonstrators pounded on the doors and shouted slogans outside.

Thursday’s event at Santa Cruz was organized by the university’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, which publicized on social media that it would run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“As a genocide unfolds before our eyes and as our government funnels our money directly into taking Palestinian lives, we cannot look away. No back to normal, NO BUSINESS AS USUAL,” according to an Instagram post for the event.

The SJP chapter did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

UC Santa Cruz assistant vice chancellor Scott Hernandez-Jason said in a statement emailed to J. that blocked the intersection to the main entrance just before noon.

“The west entrance to UC Santa Cruz remained open the entire day. The main entrance reopened shortly after 5 p.m.,” the statement said.

“We remain focused on both supporting the right to free expression and fostering an environment in which all students feel respected, safe, and supported,” the statement added. “At all times, we strive to sustain an environment for learning, teaching, and research that is free from discrimination, hate, and racism.”

Hernandez-Jason said students who experience “acts of bias” should report them through the university’s online forms.

Gabe Stutman
Gabe Stutman

Gabe Stutman is the news editor of J. Follow him on Twitter @jnewsgabe.