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Jewish Journal

ZOA refutes UC Irvine dean’s denial of anti-Semitism on campus

By Morton A. Klein, National President, Zionist Organization of America, and Susan B. Tuchman, Esq., Director, ZOA’s Center for Law and Justice

February 26, 2010 | 2:16 pm

This is a response to a column by Erwin Chemerinsky

It’s truly disappointing for a law school dean, Erwin Chemerinsky of the University of California, Irvine, to make so many false and misleading statements about anti-Semitism and Israel-bashing at UCI, UCI’s abysmal response, and the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA).

Chemerinsky implies that the ZOA has never been at UCI or spoken to Jewish students or faculty there.  False.  Over the past six years, we’ve visited UCI and communicated regularly with students, faculty, community members, and Hillel directors.  ZOA President Morton Klein spoke at UCI, but students were so worried about a backlash from Israel-bashers that his lecture was moved just off campus. 

Chemerinsky claims he hasn’t “heard one complaint about an anti-Semitic incident on campus.” Actually, there’ve been many.  Last year, the president of the pro-Israel student group described UCI as “a hotbed for anti-Israel and anti-Semitic activism over the past seven years.” Last July, another student wrote that UCI is “a firsthand example of Islamic fundamentalist anti-Semitism.”  In fact, two Jewish students transferred from UCI because of the hostile environment.  Just last week, after members of the Muslim Student Union [MSU] heckled Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren, a student told the UCI newspaper, “Personally, as a Jew, I feel scared and threatened. . . . I didn’t expect it [the campus] to be so hateful . . . .”

Citing a letter signed by five students in 2008, Chemerinsky insists that Jewish students see UCI as a “warm and hospitable place.”  He ignores the fact that 20 other students signed another letter contemporaneously, “strongly disagreeing” with those five students and expressing their “deep concern about the anti-Semitism at UCI that has been frequently couched as false and hateful attacks on Israel.”

Chemerinsky claims he hasn’t seen “the slightest indication of anti-Semitism.”  Really?  Jewish students have been physically and verbally assaulted, causing some to fear wearing anything identifying them as Jews or pro-Israel; speakers have compared Jews to Nazis and to Satan operating in the shadows; posters have depicted the Star of David dripping with blood and equating it with the swastika; a Holocaust memorial was destroyed; and swastikas have defaced campus property.  Only last week, B’nai B’rith International wrote to Chancellor Michael Drake, conveying “our deep dismay at the severe and persistent anti-Semitic harassment experienced by Jewish students.”  The “hate-filled demonstrations” at Ambassador Oren’s lecture “were merely recent examples of the anti-Semitic animus that has resulted in the intimidation of the school’s Jewish population for many years.”  The ADL also wrote to Drake, noting that “[f]or the past several years, the MSU has staged many anti-Israel events at UCI, including a large event every spring featuring virulently anti-Semitic speakers.”  Twice, Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA) has written to Drake about the MSU’s events, describing them as “appear[ing] intended to encourage violence against the State of Israel and propagate the spread of anti-Semitism.” 

Chemerinsky also claims that Drake “has responded and expressly proclaimed the inappropriateness” of anti-Jewish and anti-Israel speech, and that local leaders “are uniformly highly praising of Chancellor Drake.”  Wrong again.

Drake has issued vague statements about abhorring bigotry and wanting a respectful atmosphere.  That’s not enough. Last week, the ADL echoed the ZOA’s previous criticisms and requests and told Drake that his “efforts to maintain civility have not succeeded . . . [T]he situation calls for forceful moral leadership on your part . . . When the MSU or any other group or individual once again seeks to make Irvine one of the leading American academic venues for anti-Semitic expression, we urge you specifically, by name, to condemn such hateful expressions and those responsible for spewing a steady diet of hate on your campus.”  B’nai B’rith also urged Drake “to recognize these manifestations of anti-Semitism as precisely that and to condemn them as such.”  In 2008 and 2009, Congressman Sherman wrote to Drake: “As an American, you have a right to speak out.  As Chancellor, it is your duty to condemn violence, hate, and anti-Semitism, especially when it occurs at the UCI campus.” 

Chemerinsky claims that the ZOA’s civil rights complaint was dismissed because the evidence failed to show a hostile environment for Jewish students.  False. 

The complaint was filed on behalf of Jewish students under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which requires that federal funding recipients, like UCI, ensure that their programs and activities are free from discrimination based on “race, color, or national origin.”  The U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) enforces Title VI and decided that our allegations should be investigated.  But then OCR’s leadership changed, resulting in a changed interpretation of Title VI.  OCR decided not to consider Jews a “racial” or “national origin” group anymore, entitled to Title VI’s protections.  The new legal interpretation affected OCR’s investigation.  OCR refused to interview several witnesses and didn’t even visit the campus or interview UCI officials until the ZOA complained about the lack of thoroughness.  The new legal interpretation also affected the case’s outcome.  OCR’s decision that there was no Title VI violation was no endorsement of the campus environment or the administration’s conduct. 

Last May, a UCI student courageously spoke out in this newspaper and admitted, “I have been told to censor myself so that potential students are not afraid to come to UCI, but I have had enough censorship.  With truth comes power, not fear.”  Chemerinsky and the rest of the administration should finally acknowledge the truth that anti-Semitism is a problem at UCI and the administration needs to take serious steps to fix it.

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