Read more on UCI hate week here.
Matan Cohen, an Israeli activist with Anarchists Against the Wall (AATW), addressed a lunchtime crowd at the University of California, Irvine (UCI), on May 11 as part of an annual program of anti-Israel activity sponsored by the university’s Muslim Student Union (MSU).
Against the backdrop of a mock “apartheid wall,” a traveling exhibit depicting Israel as a racist and genocidal regime that pro-Palestinian student groups bring to their campuses for week-long anti-Israel programming, Cohen decried what he called Israel’s ethnic and racial segregation, which, he said, is making the Palestinians an “invisible nation.”
“There’s no balance here,” Cohen said. “There’s a very deep and intrinsic asymmetry of power. If all of us want to have a better future, we need to stand up and pressure Israel to end its policies.”
Cohen, 23, was allegedly shot in the eye by border police during a protest of Israel’s security fence by AATW in Ramallah in 2006. He said he plans to return to the territories and continue to protest against Israeli policies in the West Bank and Gaza alongside the Palestinians.
A heavy campus police presence was in place as several dozen pro-Israel community activists waving Israeli and U.S. flags and posters circled the campus plaza known as the Flagpoles off Pereira Drive, where Cohen spoke. Signs placed at both ends of the MSU’s exhibit area warned passers-by not to interrupt the event or they risked being arrested — a reference to the ongoing proceedings against 11 MSU members by the Orange County District Attorney’s office for interrupting a speech by Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, last year.
Several dozen Jewish students sat in the audience holding signs with messages of peace and denouncing what they called the “MSU wall of lies.”
Cohen was one of three Jews who participated in the MSU program. Earlier in the week, two members of anti-Zionist, ultra-Orthodox group Neturei Karta, took the lunchtime podium in what Rabbi Zevi Tenenbaum of Chabad at UCI called a deliberate attempt to misrepresent Orthodox Judaism to unsuspecting students.
“We advised the [Jewish] students that this is pure propaganda,” Tenenbaum said. “We told them that the MSU is playing with the minds of people by saying there are Jews against Israel and who denounce it, when really they are a fringe group and a small percentage of the Orthodox world.”
Tenenbaum had set up a table near the Flagpoles area and offered snacks and support to Jewish students during the first three days of the event. He said some Jewish students were taken aback by Neturei Karta’s participation, prompting him to hold a seminar the following day to inform students and community members about the group and its limited following, even among Chasidic Jews.
Tenenbaum said he thought the MSU’s program had been toned down compared to previous years.
“The first three days I was there, it seemed a little calmer,” Tenenbaum said. “The most noticeable thing was that there were no blood-stained Israeli flags. Also, their big keynote speaker, Malik Ali, wasn’t there. Part of that might be because of the proceedings against the 11 students, but, also, different organizations have had different approaches to [the MSU event] over the years. I wouldn’t say which tactic or strategy prevailed, I’m just happy it was toned down.”