UC Davis pro-Palestine encampment contends with counterprotesters, spokesperson says

Less than a week into their encampment at UC Davis, pro-Palestine protesters have experienced resistance from counterprotesters during late night and early morning encounters, a spokesperson told The Sacramento Bee on Sunday.

“Some of these people are known to people in this encampment,” said UC Davis law student Stanford McConnehey, “as the same people who have been surveilling, harassing, haranguing at protests and educational events and things like that in an attempt to intimidate people. So their viewpoints are very clear.”

The encampment in the quad outside of the UC Davis Memorial Union began May 6 and experienced multiple confrontations with counterprotesters, McConnehey said, including a man walking into the encampment and punching a member of the encampment’s security after protesters crowded around him.

“That’s assault,” McConnehey said, noting the encampment did not call police or attempt to press charges.

Other agitators, McConnehey said, included men who are not students using flashlights and bullhorns in late hours to wake up those sleeping in tents in the encampment. They were using racial epithets and disparaging language, McConnehey said.

“Our security folks essentially ran them off. They started blowing their whistles, people got out of their tents and rallied to that side of where everything was happening,” McConnehey said.

McConnehey said there were three incidents that happened overnight between Tuesday and Wednesday, and Wednesday-Thursday, and then at approximately 5 a.m. Friday. He said campus police responded to two of the incidents, and crime logs show one incident labeled “allegation of assault based on religious beliefs” dated 10:59 p.m. May 6. UC Davis police did not immediately respond to a request to confirm the incidents as of Sunday afternoon.

Pro-Israel counterprotesters say others to blame

The Davis Oct. 7 Coalition, a counterprotest group, pushed back on McConnehey’s allegations Sunday. The coalition is a group of students and Davis residents who support Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas and have made appearances outside the encampment.

A member of the group, Jonathan Groveman, said that the coalition had filed a report Friday with UC Davis Police after he said some of its members were threatened by people around the protest space. While the group did not file an assault or hate crime report, Groveman said some of the protesters were recorded on video chanting “River to the Sea” — a rallying cry for those who want Palestinian control of Israel — and have made other actions the group feels are antisemitic.

“They’re putting our faces, names and addresses on their website,” he said of the protesters. “So when they’re saying we were saying racial epithets, that’s almost a call to action.”

Groveman, a U.S. military veteran, said he decided to participate in the counterprotests to bring attention to the eight American hostages who remain held by Hamas. In all, 45 Americans were taken hostage in the Oct. 7 offensive that sparked the war in Gaza.

He said that the coalition has used peaceful means to counter the encampment, including using blow horns and other noisemakers around 5 a.m. Friday to “wake up” the protesters. He said the group does not condone violence.

Groveman said he believed some of the agitators near the encampment over the past week, including two men his group identified Friday for police, weren’t students or faculty and were not supporters of either side.

“We went there for the specific purpose that we were hearing from Jewish students that they were getting followed home ... and were followed to work by people they saw when they were outside the encampment that they did not recognize from campus,” Groveman said. “And there was a general worry that people were inside the encampment that should not have been there.”

Groveman said he had heard of the fight that broke out at the encampment, but stressed it was not a member of the pro-Israel coalition.

“We don’t know who that was,” he said. “We as a group are there because there is not a two-way dialogue.”

The pro-Palestinian encampment has roughly doubled in size since it began last week and stopped taking in new people with the Whole Earn Festival happening nearby on campus.

“We didn’t want people who are drunk, partying or whatever and who just wanted to come pitch a tent,” McConnehey said. “We’re here for a very specific reason: to keep our eyes on Palestine, to be raising our voices about the ongoing genocide.”

The ongoing war in Gaza has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians living in Gaza since Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7 killing more than 1,200 Israelis in the deadliest attack on Jews since the Holocaust.

Encampment leads to popular festival being moved

UC Davis’ Whole Earth Festival typically takes place in the quad where the encampment was set up. But it was moved to nearby Russell Fields a few blocks north after speaking to leaders of the campus protest.

The free festival, which began in 1969, is run by students and attracts 30,000 people over Mother’s Day Weekend, according to the festival’s website. It’s designed to highlight activism, wellness and environment sustainability.

There was no animosity among the event planners and the protesters despite the festival having roughly a week’s notice to relocate after the start of the encampment.

“We spoke to them prior to moving just to kind of get a temperature check on how things were going with them,” said festival co-director Emma Mele. “They said they weren’t planning on moving, which is so OK and makes so much sense. Just logistically, we (said) we don’t want to intrude on space. And there’s so many fields everywhere and maybe we can make it work and did make it work. So everything is super normal and good.”

The top logistical issue, Mele said, was accounting for the 90-plus degree temperatures over the weekend given the new location didn’t offer as much shade as the quad, which has large trees. It led to at least one tent with misters being set up to help keep patrons cool. Mele also said some food vendors backed out of the festival because of the lack of greywater available at the new location.

Mele said there have been reports for pro-Israel protesters at the event, but said everything had remained peaceful.

“Given the nature of the campus right now and the conflict, I think you’re going to see that anywhere,” she said. “So yes, we have seen many different things here. Buy everybody can do as they please. We’re a public space.”

The Bee’s Daniel Hunt contributed to this story.