OC Hillel Task Force mentioned in article about recent lecture at UCI.
Civil rights official supervised a report that says UCI is among several U.S. schools with conflict.
By Michael Miller – Daily Pilot
A federal civil rights official who visited UC Irvine on Thursday said anti-Semitism exists on the campus, although he added that it was difficult to gauge how large of a problem it is.
Kenneth Marcus, the staff director of the United States Commission on Civil Rights, spoke to an audience of about two dozen in the campus Berkeley Place building. Marcus’ group, an independent agency established by Congress in 1957, issued a report last July on campus anti-Semitism nationwide, and UCI was among the campuses cited in the study.
“There is a question to whether what we are seeing is a large number of small incidents, or a systemic problem in higher education,” Marcus told the audience. “Either way, what we’re seeing is a lot of it.”
Marcus, who formerly served as head of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, supervised the report on campus anti-Semitism last year. The report, which determined that anti-Semitism was a problem on a number of campuses, cited recent incidents at UCI and included testimony that Jewish students were often intimidated and physically harassed.
Marcus could not say whether anti-Semitism is more prevalent at UCI than at other campuses, but he said prejudice on the whole has grown stronger — or, at least, more widely reported — in recent years. He distributed copies of the report at the lecture as well as postcards featuring the slogan “Silence is an ally of hate.”
Marcus, who met with Jewish student groups earlier in the day, said he urged people to report instances of discrimination or abuse.
“People think what happened to them is an isolated incident and it’s not happening to other people,” he said.
In recent years, Jewish student groups at UCI have been targeted or criticized on a number of occasions — although some have questioned whether the conflicts are racially motivated or simply based on political issues.
The Muslim Student Union angered many last May when it ran a weeklong program titled “Holocaust in the Holy Land,” while Muslim students protested at a speech in January by pro-Israel historian Daniel Pipes.
Representatives of the Muslim Student Union have said that they are not anti-Semitic but rather critics of Israel and its policies. Muslim Student Union members did not return calls on Thursday.
StandWithUs Orange County, an international organization founded in defense of Israel and the Jewish community, invited Marcus to speak at UCI. The campus is undergoing two investigations regarding anti-Semitism — one by the Office for Civil Rights, which launched its probe in 2005, and another by the Hillel Foundation of Orange County, which plans to produce a report by the end of the year.
Jeffrey Rips, the foundation’s executive director, was among those attending Marcus’ speech on Thursday. He criticized those who called the tension on campus an even dispute, saying Jewish students had done little if anything to lash out against Muslim groups.
“It’s a Muslim Student Union issue,” Rips said. “For people to say it’s a Muslim-Jewish conflict, that’s really misleading. It’s a one-sided issue.”
Nathan Rynn, a professor emeritus of physics and astronomy who belongs to the university synagogue, said he came to the lecture wanting to know more about the issue. He said he came to UCI in 1966 and had never thought much of prejudice there.
“I got pretty agitated when I heard that UCI is considered an anti-Semitic campus,” Rynn said. “That’s nothing I’ve ever experienced.”
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