May 11, 2010
‘Israeli Apartheid Week’ at UC Irvine brings conflict to fore
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Also in the crowd were at least two filmmakers shooting footage for forthcoming documentaries about anti-Israel activity on UC campuses.
After Epstein’s speech, a small number of Jewish and Muslim students were seen having private discussions about the conflict, though most of the students kept to their own groups. Many Jewish students seemed largely unbothered by the event.
“I have mixed emotions,” said third-year student Jackie Hartfield. “Obviously we hate to see this. There’s nothing worse than seeing a bloody Israeli flag. But this event has brought the Jewish community together.”
“We’re just trying to get through this week to get to iFest,” she said, referring to UCI’s weeklong celebration of Israel sponsored by campus Jewish and community groups that will take place May 23-28.
“As an active AFI member, I feel the tension, but I’ve learned to deal with it so it doesn’t affect me personally as much,” said Sepi Termechi.
“I’m supportive of today’s event,” said Katy Escobar. A third-year student who said she is neither Jewish nor Muslim, Escobar said Israeli policies toward Palestinians are “not as bad as Apartheid,” but considers Israel’s Law of Return to be preferential treatment to Jewish on the basis of religion while Palestinians are denied the ability to return to Israeli territory.
Members of the MSU and Epstein declined repeated requests for comments.
Earlier in the day, a group of more than 30 faculty members submitted a letter for publication to the New University, UCI’s official newspaper, in which they took issue with what they called “hate-promoting actions” and “activities on campus that foment hatred against Jews and Israelis.” Pointing to incidents such the Star of David depicted as akin to a swastika, and a statement by a speaker invited to campus by the MSU that the Zionist Jew is a party of Satan, the signatories stated that “some community members, students, and faculty indeed feel intimidated, and at times even unsafe.”
“Actions that demonize and derogate others, such as the previous events that have occurred on our campus noted above, have contributed to UCI’s developing a growing reputation as a center of hate and intolerance,” the letter stated. “Our campus deserves better.”
That evening, KPCC public radio’s Air Talk program sponsored a forum at Costa Mesa’s South Coast Repertory Theater that examined tensions between Muslim and Jewish students at UCI and explored ways to move the issue forward. Panelists for the show, hosted by Larry Mantle and taped live to air for broadcast Tuesday, included former AFI President Isaac Yerushalmi and Omar Zarka, who was president of the MSU from 2007-2009. Yerushalmi is currently a fifth-year student at UCI; Zarka is currently attending UCLA as a graduate student.
Salam Al-Maryati, executive director and founder of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee and David Lehrer, president of the non-profit group Community Advocates, Inc., also appeared on the panel. Both groups are based in Los Angeles.
Mantle said that UCI administrators declined to participate in the event.
Zarka said that Muslim students at UCI felt frustrated by what he called a double standard when it came to their events about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. MSU programs are scrutinized far more than those sponsored by Jewish groups, space had been denied, and their speakers were not supported by the university, as were those brought by Jewish students, he said.
“We’ve been so frustrated for so long as to the treatment we’ve been receiving,” Zarka said. “The Chancellor is good regarding the right to free speech but on the actual ground we’ve seen so many instances where the university has implemented selective treatment.”
Yerushalmi pointed to “gripes” Jewish students had with Muslim students, including having programs interrupted by anti-Israel protesters.
“We try to express our views but we’re very often shouted down or intimidated on campus. In 2008, leaders of the MSU were caught tearing down posters of our event. We find it difficult to express ourselves without having to deal with things like that.”
He also pointed to several speakers brought to campus by the MSU, such as Oakland firebrand cleric Amir Abdel Malik Ali, who preach hatred against Zionists and Jews.
“The MSU doesn’t endorse every word that comes out of a speaker’s mouth,” Zarka responded, adding that his group never felt the need to repudiate any of the comments which Jewish students perceived as anti-Semitic.
Malik Ali will be speaking at the MSU event on campus this Thursday.
Questions from the audience included one asking how panelists believed their groups could work together to reduce tensions on campus. Zarka and Yerushalmi shared with the more than 100 mostly Muslim and Jewish community members attending the free event their fruitless efforts to bring their respective groups together to discuss or debate the issues.
“There are many students on both sides on both sides who are very passionate but I don’t think it’s an excuse not to have dialog,” Yerushalmi said. He pointed to what he believes is a policy among Muslim students not to engage with Jewish students outside the parameters of the Middle East conflict.
“Until our message is given an equal platform, I don’t see how that’s going to work,” Zarka said.
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