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UC Davis facing federal lawsuit over pro-Palestinian encampment; student senate passes resolution in solidarity with protesters

UC Davis faces federal lawsuit over pro-Palestinian camp on campus
UC Davis faces federal lawsuit over pro-Palestinian camp on campus 04:44

DAVIS -- The University of California, Davis is now facing a federal lawsuit filed against it by a Jewish, pro-Israel community member who says his civil rights were violated on campus when trying to counter-protest an ongoing pro-Palestinian encampment. 

The Popular University for the Liberation of Palestine (PULP) set up an encampment protest at the UC Davis' Quad just outside the Memorial Union fifteen days ago. 

Students, faculty and community members involved in the encampment have these demands for university leaders and say they will continue to protest until they are met. 

As tension grows, Davis resident Jonathan Groveman says he filed the federal lawsuit against UC Davis after he feels the university administration ignored his concerns. 

"I was hit multiple times with an umbrella, I reported to the Davis Police Department, they say they never got it, they did get it. They are not doing anything to protect just about anyone not involved with the encampment right now," said Groveman. "I believe that just about everyone at this university who is not a member of this encampment has been discriminated against in some way."

The lawsuit centers around two main allegations by Groveman: that the encampment is discriminatory in nature and that it is also currently violating Americans with Disability Act (ADA) regulations by having a sidewalk that runs through its center. Groveman says that the sidewalk is the only ADA-accessible route to cross the Quad. 

"If you're a disabled veteran like myself and you want to use the ADA footpath you can't. If you're a Jew and you want to counterprotest, you can't in a safe way," said Groveman. 

Tensions have been high at the encampment at times as clashes with counter-protesters have become escalated -- both pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel demonstrators have made allegations of harassing and intimidating behaviors coming from the other side. 

"There have been no arrests in relation to the encampment or counter-demonstrators," said University officials in a statement. "There have been a few heated moments and occasions where security personnel have been called, including a brief encounter on the afternoon of May 14. Students, security staff and others have worked quickly to de-escalate these situations when they arise."

Pro-Palestinian protestors tell CBS13 they have done what they can to keep their own demonstration peaceful and that they are not interested in violence or escalation of any kind. 

"It's honestly kind of pathetic, the method and manner in which they are raising their issue to say they are under threat by people at the Popular University when they could do well to just go read a book themselves," said Stanford McConnehey, UC Davis student and a designated spokesperson for the students of PULP. 

CBS13 asked McConnehey to respond to the allegations from Groveman that the encampment's placement blocks the public's access to the sidewalk that runs through the Quad. 

"If they need to come through the center of camp, they will be escorted through the center," said McConnehey. 

"So nobody is being blocked from using the sidewalk? Because that was an accusation," asked CBS13 reporter Ashley Sharp.

"Absolutely not. There are people who have been blocked because they want to come in and harass people," said McConnehey. 

McConnehey says in response to the other allegations in the lawsuit that the encampment is discriminatory against other groups of people, including the Jewish community, that they disagree and remain focused on their own message.   

"We're not going to be distracted from keeping our eyes on an ongoing genocide," said McConnehey. 

On Thursday the ASUCD, UC Davis' student senate, took a stand of solidarity with the encampment by passing an emergency resolution in support of the demands of the encampment and of Palestine. 

Some of the main stances of the senate resolution call for disclosure and divestment of any university funds in support of Israel, investment in Palestinian studies on campus, the abolishment of the UC Davis campus police department and Chancellor Gary May's resignation.

"Support from different institutional bodies, as much as possible and as quickly as possible, is really important. For them to not only feel the support of a community behind them, but to show the university that the student body is overwhelmingly in support of the demands of the encampment," said Yara Kadaan. 

The UC Davis senior and member of the ASUCD authored the resolution with two co-sponsors. 

Kadaan says the resolution was passed unanimously on Thursday, May 16, but clarified that two voting members left the room when the vote was taken. She says since they did not vote to object, the resolution is considered to have passed unanimously by those who did vote. 

"There are a lot of Palestinian and Arab students here that have been directly impacted by this. We don't feel comfortable being at a university that is profiting off of and investing in the destruction of our own people and our own land," said Kadaan.      

The resolution also calls out by name six faculty members who PULP accuses of harassment and intimidation of Pro-Palestinian students, asking that the university disciple them. 

"Generally just racist and or threatening rhetoric being used against these students protesting for the Palestinian right to exist," said Kadaan. 

School of Medicine Professor Emeritus David Seigel is one of the faculty members named directly in the resolution. 

"It is certainly defamatory and vile and false. That's the most important thing, it's not true," said Seigel. 

Seigel says he has engaged in counter-protesting at the encampment on multiple occasions in the two weeks it has been erected in the Quad. 

He denies any allegation that he harassed or intimidated students by using any tactic. 

Seigel says after engaging in counter-protesting, he was retaliated against when he returned to the Quad to hear a speech from a Pro-Palestinian activist, an event organized by PULP. The moment is captured on video which Siegel provided to CBS13. 

"I was accosted by their security and prevented from approaching. Jostled. Threatened with umbrellas and was unable to get close enough to hear the speaker," said Siegel. "So clearly, the role and the goal of these people are in fact to intimidate and slander people who are pro-Israel." 

Encampment protestors say with the semester coming to an end soon, they expect University leaders to come back to the table to negotiate and respond to their demands in the coming days. 

If their demands are not met, protestors say their demonstration will continue in some form at the start of the fall semester. 

UC Davis' current public statements regarding the encampment can be found at this link. 

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