New University Editorial: UCI Anti-Semitism Distorted

The New U. Editorial disregards antisemitism at UCI by saying, “anti-Semitic students are a tiny minority who give a bad name to the 25,000 others here.” Read below…

UCI Anti-Semitism Distorted
By Editorial Board

UC Irvine is being investigated for anti-Semitism for the third time in as many years, this time by the Hillel Foundation of Orange County. Although Hillel’s report likely won’t be released for a few months, one can already predict with a high degree of certainty what it will say.

We’ll hear again about the destruction of a Holocaust memorial in 2003, a swastika carved into a table and two more painted on a wall in Vista del Campo. You can count on mentions of last year’s “Holocaust in the Holy Land” event and the many speeches by perennial hatemonger and Muslim Student Union favorite Amir Abdel Malik Ali. Hillel might even scour old letters to the New University to find strongly worded condemnations of the “racist political ideology of Zionism” and the “oppressive Israeli occupation of Palestine.”

But when one considers the entirety of the evidence that can be brought against UCI, the inescapable conclusion is that anti-Semitic students are a tiny minority who give a bad name to the 25,000 others here.

Exaggerating the extent of anti-Semitism at UCI does harm unfairly to our school’s reputation and sends the misleading message that anti-Semites are welcome here.

The few virulently anti-Jewish students at UCI – some of whom have no reservations about loudly spreading their hateful rhetoric – are met with indifference (at best) by the vast majority of students, who are more interested in getting to class than they are in engaging with bigots.

Alex Chazen, the president of Hillel at UCI, has recognized that anti-Semitic students are a minority here. He has also supported the UCI administration in the past, saying, “[Anteaters for Israel] and Hillel both agree with and adhere to the administration’s free speech policy. They enforce it justly and fairly, and therefore we have no contentions with it.”

If the UCI administration had applied free speech policies inequitably, this would be a cause for concern, but as Chazen recognizes, there is no evidence to support such a conjecture.

Incidents of anti-Semitic speech are given no more protection than other examples of xenophobia, such as the also too-common expressions of anti-Islamic sentiment.

Although few would call for administrators to exercise prior restraint on student speech, we often hear the complaint from Jewish and Muslim students alike that the administration should explicitly condemn certain speakers and events, even if they recognize their Constitutionally guaranteed freedoms.

As a university, we are invested in freedom of thought and freedom of speech, which means sometimes allowing the freedom to offend. Students should be mature enough to recognize that not everything that is said on a campus reflects the opinion of the chancellor et al. For the administration to speak against any one act of expression would set a dangerous precedent. Are we then to believe that every subsequent speech that does not bear a mark of explicit disapproval should be seen as a statement of official university policy?

It is far better for the administration to continue their present course of action, which means staying largely out of the fray, and occasionally issuing vague requests for students to treat each other with respect (which most students already do).

Administrators rightly recognize a person’s right to say “It’s just a matter of time before the state of Israel will be wiped off the face of the earth,” “The Palestinians must have their will crushed … through the bitter crucible of war, of loss, of despair” and “They should welcome the destruction of Iran even if it could mean their own death,” although they likely disagree – as all decent people should – with such statements.

It is regrettable that certain students on campus feel the need to express themselves in such a way as to make others feel threatened, and we should voice our disagreement in such cases, but to allow the administration to determine which opinions are acceptable would be a grievous error.

The New University has tried to make its Opinion section a venue in which individuals can work out disagreements through written words instead of violence and confrontation, and to this end, we have exercised little control over what opinions we see fit to present. This doesn’t mean that we agree with everything we run on these pages – many articles have sparked spirited newsroom debates – but perhaps it is most important to protect those opinions that are unpopular.

Criminal activities such as the aforementioned acts of vandalism should be investigated, and if the perpetrators are found, they should be dealt with accordingly. Racist opinions should be challenged. But when this challenge becomes a demand to silence similar speech in the future, we have betrayed the fundamental nature of the educational system.

This being said, how productive is it to keep having these debates? Religious beliefs are not subject to rational thought, and no matter how much Jewish and Muslim students butt heads, the likelihood that radicals on either side will have their minds changed is extremely low.

Aside from stirring up a lot of animosity between pro-Israeli and anti-Israeli students, most of the radical speakers who are invited to campus do little more than preach to their own rabid fan base.

If an average student were to attend just a handful of events such as those put on by MSU or the Ayn Rand Club, it would become immediately apparent that the audience is sharply divided, with about one half of the audience believing that Israel will be wiped off the face of the earth and the other half believing that the Palestinian will must be crushed.

It also becomes apparent from the average age of attendees that the target audience of such speeches is not the average UCI student, nor even the polarized pro- or anti-Israel student but a strange smattering of Orange County residents that have nothing better to do than to see their conflicts played out through students.

No matter what Hillel’s investigation finds or what actions the UCI administration takes in response, there will continue to be anti-Semitic students at UCI (in no greater concentration than in society at large) who will continue to be ignored by all but a few dozen students. That is, unfortunately, the necessary price of living in a society with freedom of speech.


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