Jewish Group forming task force on anti-Semitism at UC Irvine
IRVINE, Calif. A Jewish group said Tuesday it will form a to investigate “a growing number of anti-Semitic incidents” at the University of California, Irvine.
The Hillel Foundation of Orange County said the task force will interview Jewish and non-Jewish students, professors, alumni, administration officials and religious leaders about their experiences during its year-long inquiry to “find out what is really happening as opposed to what is hearsay.”
“It’s not a witch hunt,” said Jeffrey Rips, the foundation’s executive director. “There’s a lot of people who are really concerned.”
The campus, about 30 miles south of Los Angeles, has a history of tension between Muslim and Jewish students that stretches back several years. Jewish students have complained that the school’s Muslim Student Union hosts guest speakers who support Hamas and Hezbollah and advocate for the destruction of the Israeli state. Muslim students were outraged last year when cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad were unveiled at a panel on Islamic extremism.
Mohamed Galal, who is listed as the contact for the Muslim Student Union, did not return a phone call Tuesday. E-mails to several other Muslim student leaders were not returned.
Officials with the Hillel Foundation said they decided to create the task force after dozens of Muslim students disrupted a Jan. 31 presentation by a noted scholar on Israel.
An amateur video of the event shows about 50 Muslim students, many wearing prayer shawls around their shoulders, marching out of the auditorium and onto campus while clapping and chanting “anti-Israel” and “anti-oppression.”
“There seems to be a political atmosphere, an atmosphere of dislike for the state of Israel,” said Ted Bleiweis, a member of the new task force. “We understand full well that speech is protected under the First Amendment, but there’s also an obligation for the administration to exercise its right to free speech and unequivocally denounce this.”
UC Irvine officials were not aware of the task force until Tuesday and declined to comment about its formation until they had learned more, said James Cohen, university spokesman.
UC Irvine remains “committed to principles of free speech as well as addressing the issues raised in how free speech in exercised,” Cohen said, reading from a prepared statement.
Tension between Muslim and Jewish students flared last February when a Republican student group unveiled cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad during a panel discussion on Islamic extremism. Hundreds of Muslim students, many wearing green armbands, protested inside and outside the event, which drew many Jewish students.
The Muslim Student Union also drew national attention in 2004 when more than two dozen students wore green stoles to their graduation. They said the stoles symbolized their faith, but others said the clothing represented allegiance to the militant group Hamas and was meant to intimidate Jewish students.
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