April 13, 2010
Is UC Irvine safe for Jews?
When worlds collide.
(Page 2 - Previous Page)
Fifth-year student Isaac Yerushalmi called UC Irvine’s campus “a great place for Jews.” A former president of AFI, Yerushalmi has taken a leading role in encouraging dialogue between Muslim and Jewish students, both on and off campus.
On Facebook, he leaves abundant comments under entries by his Muslim peers, often referencing meetings they’ve had in the past. He challenges them to rethink their views, to be open to discussions with Jewish students. They usually don’t see eye to eye, but remain cordial. It’s clear they’ve been at this for a while.
“I’ve never felt any sort of physical threat myself,” Yerushalmi said. “There’s just that handful of students, 40 to 100, that make all this noise. That’s what the media is focused on.”
While they don’t deny that anti-Semitism exists, Yerushalmi and others who share his view of campus life say that tension between Muslims and Jews ebbs and flows, peaking at times when the MSU stages an event, then quickly returning to normal.
How accurate that depiction is was raised last year in an article in The Jewish Journal by Neelie Milstein, a December 2009 graduate, who said in the piece that she had been told to censor herself so as not to discourage Jewish students from enrolling.
“Behind closed doors, students often complain and say how hard it is to be a student on campus,” Reut Cohen said. It’s hard to be put in a situation where you come to campus and have to be advocates.”
“I’d be lying if I said that [the students] are not stressed out about it,” said David Bar Gadda, a fifth-year student who participated in UCI’s student delegation to the AIPAC national policy conference in March. “It’s an attack on their identity. It hits them.”
UC Irvine lies in the heart of one of the country’s largest Muslim communities, and while there are no official numbers on how many Muslims are enrolled, the student body reflects the neighborhood. The Muslim Student Union, which represents only a small, militant portion of the Muslim students, was founded in 1992 as an officially sanctioned student group, purportedly to provide academic and religious support to students. Part of a student network on U.S. and Canadian campuses often called Muslim Student Associations, MSU is an offshoot of the radical Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic political group funded by the Saudi government that gave rise to Hamas, among other terrorist organizations. In recent years, many MSU chapters have embraced controversial, often militant rhetoric on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and have organized some of the most extreme anti-Israel events.
The outbreak of the Second Intifada in 2002 saw a ratcheting up of MSU activity at UCI surrounding the conflict.
Omar Zarka, a UCI graduate, was president of UCI’s MSU chapter from 2007 to 2009. He sees the group’s actions as political, and not racially motivated. “We try to make a conscientious distinction between Zionism and Judaism,” he said. “Our objective is to create discussion and to inform and educate. Anti-Semitism is not allowed. That is unequivocal. Everybody is on the same page with this. Obviously the politics get tense and it hits home because both sides have families affected. But if there is no event, things are very normal. There is no anti-Semitism on campus.”
Evidence suggests otherwise. Bloodied Israeli flags and posters equating the Star of David with a swastika have appeared more than once on campus. Jihad has been advocated in student publications. And for one week each spring, Ring Road becomes headquarters for a campaign with titles such as “Israel: The Politics of Genocide” and “Holocaust in the Holy Land.” Recently, a mock “apartheid wall,” depicting Israel as a racist, genocidal regime has been the prop of choice for the event, which many Jewish and non-Jewish students alike refer to as “Hate Week.”
But it is the speakers invited to campus by the MSU who have drawn the biggest outcry.
In 2009, Oakland cleric Amir Abdel Malik Ali came and called Zionists “the new Nazis” and “the party of Satan,” saying “Zionism must be destroyed.”
The year before, Washington cleric Mohammed al-Asi, said, “The stone and the tree will say, ‘Oh Muslim, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.’ The context of this prophetic statement is speaking about the political or the ideological or the military Jew, which, in the language of today, turns out to be the Zionist Jew ... Jew here means Zionist.”
MSU representatives declined to respond to repeated requests for comment on this apparent divergence from their policy.