Officials say blogs and outside groups make divide between Jewish and Muslim students seem wider than it is.
Sunday, June 10, 2007
By MARLA JO FISHER
The Orange County Register
IRVINE Ã¢â‚¬â€œ A young man in a turban, his face covered, marches around UC Irvine with signs saying “Death to Infidels. Death to Israel” during a week of campus demonstrations by Muslim students.
Here’s the catch: He’s not Muslim. In fact, he’s not even a student at UCI.
Instead, he’s one of many outsiders who have become embroiled in a campus war of words between a small number of Jewish and Muslim students.
Was he aware that passers-by might actually think he was a terrorist?
“Of course,” said Max Gibson, 27, a self-proclaimed Zionist who lives in San Diego and is affiliated with a college Republican group. “It was to make people think.”
Gibson’s masquerade, authentic enough to spur campus police to disarm him of fake bombs strapped to his body, is an example of how real events at UC Irvine have spun off into their own sometimes fictional existence, spawning street theater and reverberating worldwide on dozens of blogs.
Events at UC Irvine are no different than at many other schools. A recent University of California study found 85 percent of UCI students agreed there was respect for all students, regardless of race or religion Ã¢â‚¬â€œ roughly the same percentage as at other UC campuses.
Yet UCI has achieved a blog-inspired reputation for anti-Semitism Ã¢â‚¬â€œ a notoriety that many campus observers say is unfair and unwarranted.
“A lot of the blogs distort facts and take things out of context,” said Alex Chazen, president of Hillel: The Jewish Student Union at UC Irvine. “Many of the bloggers aren’t on our campus and don’t even know what’s going on.”
One of the most ardent bloggers and complainants about campus anti-Semitism, according to Dean of Students Sally Peterson, has not only already graduated from UCI but applied to and attended graduate school here.
UCI officials say they spend hundreds of hours each month trying to answer allegations that the they ignore anti-Semitic activities on campus.
The Register story reports that student discord is over Israeli policies:
The main source of discord among students is over the state of Israel’s policies toward Palestinians in contested territories.
Like other campus groups around the country, the Muslim Student Union regularly invites inflammatory speakers who decry Israeli policies and go so far as to say that the state of Israel should not exist. The speakers use words deliberately designed to provoke strong reactions, like calling Israelis “the new Nazis.”
Jewish students have also invited controversial speakers, one of whom said that “Palestinians must have their will crushed.”
When Muslim students disrupted a speech by an inflammatory anti-Muslim speaker earlier this year, shouting “Anti-Israel, anti-Hate,” they quickly moved outside to avoid being forced to leave by campus officials.
Pro-Israeli blogs later described the peaceful incident, which lasted about 90 seconds, as being staged by “Islamist thugs” and “budding terrorists.”
Members of the Muslim Student Union say they don’t preach hatred against Jews, but they do criticize Israeli policies toward Palestine.
Club spokeswoman Marya Bangee acknowledged that her group has invited provocative speakers but that members are not personally anti-Semitic.
“People see Israel as part of their religious identity and say, ‘They are attacking our religion instead of having a political debate,’ ” Bangee said. “But the way the Zionists on campus treat people speaking out against Israel is way worse. A woman once shouted out that Islam is an evil religion. Without a doubt we never said anything like that.”
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Anti-Semitic or anti-Islamic?
From what I can gather the division among students at UCI over this question is isolated to those individuals, on campus and off, who feel strongly one way or another.
The speakers invited by all groups involed have in some cases been “over the top.”Ã‚Â But in general it seems that the students of UCI are taking the issues in stride, and the antics “with a grain of salt.”
In a society where we hold freedom of speech as one of our core values we need to realize that speech can be hateful, but dialogue can be productive.
On this matter I think we could use more dialogue and less speech.