Protest planned at Pomona College graduation, antisemitism complaint filed

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By Yosi Yahoudai
Founder and Managing Partner

Hundreds of protesters plan to converge outside the Shrine Auditorium Sunday, 2 1/2 hours before Pomona College is scheduled to hold its relocated 2024 graduation ceremony.

The decision to move commencement to a venue nearly 40 miles from its main campus was made last week after pro-Palestinian protesters — who have occupied the original site since May 5 — refused to move.

“We are deeply grateful for your patience in this extraordinary situation and we look forward to honoring our graduates on Sunday,” Pomona College officials said when the relocation was announced. “We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience of these changes made to ensure that the Class of 2024 can graduate with their loved ones in attendance. Additional safety measures will be in place and transportation to the venue will be provided for graduates.”

The protesters continue to demand that the college divest from Israeli-tied companies and weapons manufacturers.

“By converging at [the Shrine Auditorium], student organizers aim to amplify their demands and expose the interconnected nature of their struggles, linking the fight for Palestinian liberation to broader struggles for social justice and the dismantling of oppressive systems,” George Smith, a director from Pomona Divest from Apartheid, said in a statement early Sunday. “Their message will be impossible to ignore: complicity in the oppression of Palestinians will not be tolerated, and the fight for justice will continue to escalate.”

Meanwhile, the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law and the Anti-Defamation League filed a complaint Thursday with the U. S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights alleging Pomona College, and Occidental College, have permitted severe discrimination and harassment of Jewish students in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“The hostile environment on campus forces Jewish and Israeli students to conceal their identities and precludes them from participating in Pomona’s social, educational, and extracurricular activities unless they disavow their Jewish ancestral and ethnic heritage connected to Israel,” said the complaint filed by the Arnold & Porter law firm. “Pomona’s President, G. Gabrielle Starr and Pomona’s administration have been well aware of this

ongoing problem but, despite recent laudable efforts, President Starr has been unable to address it `promptly and effectively,’ as is required under Title VI, in part, because of the strong opposition she has experienced from pro-Hamas students and faculty (with little to no help from the Board of Trustees), coupled with the complexity of the school structure, and the unremittingly hostile environment on campus.”

The complaint outlines several incidents it alleges has resulted in a tenuous situation for Jewish students at Pomona College.

“The situation at Pomona is serious and ongoing, and we are receiving reports of new antisemitic acts of discrimination and harassment every day,” the complaint states. “Jewish and pro-Israel students on Pomona’s campus are frightened and alone. One Pomona student –a [6-foot-2-inch] robust male student leader on campus — is transferring because the hostile environment for Jewish students has become so overwhelming. In the painful words of one Israeli Pomona student, ‘if there [was] a way to complete school and never go to campus, I would never go back to Pomona.’”

In a statement to the Claremont Courier news site, Pomona College’s Senior Director of Communications, Patricia Vest, said “Pomona College is committed to confronting antisemitism in a sustained and comprehensive manner. We will continue to enforce our policies, promote safety and actively challenge this destructive form of hate.”

The college’s main commencement ceremony had been scheduled for Sunday on the Marston Quad at the main campus in Claremont, but is now set for 6 p.m. at the Shrine Auditorium near USC.    

Individual college department graduations were held Saturday at various locations on the Pomona College campus to avoid the previously erected graduation stage and reception area where dozens of pro-Palestinian protesters remain as part of an encampment.

Large banners reading “The people’s campus for Palestine” and the Palestinian flag were seen Thursday still hanging from the commencement stage. Protesters have vowed to remain in place and block graduation activities unless the college commits to divestment.

“Students are prepared to defend the encampment until their demands are met, and call upon the college to heed the overwhelming support for divestment in their community,” said a statement from Pomona Divest from Apartheid.

Pomona College officials responded in a statement issued last Monday saying, in part, “Our students, faculty, staff and alumni hold a range of viewpoints. Throughout the year, college leaders have offered to meet with student protesters and will continue to do so. We will promote safety for all members of our community and pursue our educational mission, considering the full range of viewpoints.”   

Protest organizers said they refuse to meet with college officials until they agree to “preconditions,” including disclosure of the college’s Israel-related investments and full amnesty for negotiators and other protesters.

They said 19 students were arrested April 5 while taking part in a sit- in at the university president’s office.    

In a statement released after that action in early April, Starr said some activists at the sit-in refused to identify themselves and “proceeded to verbally harass staff, even using a sickening, anti-Black racial slur in addressing an administrator.”

Starr said the occupation violated college policies, but “as we have expressed in the past, we work with students who are exercising their right to protest unless that protest impedes on the rights of others. In addition, we require all individuals on campus to identify themselves upon request by campus administrators or Campus Safety. This is imperative for the safety of our community, especially when these individuals are masked.”

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About the Author
Yosi Yahoudai is a founder and the managing partner of J&Y. His practice is comprised primarily of cases involving automobile and motorcycle accidents, but he also represents people in premises liability lawsuits, including suits alleging dangerous conditions of public property, third-party criminal conduct, and intentional torts. He also has expertise in cases involving product defects, dog bites, elder abuse, and sexual assault. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California and is admitted to practice in all California State Courts, and the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. If you have any questions about this article, you can contact Yosi by clicking here.