OC Register: Jewish students say UC Irvine is safe

OC Register reports:

Jewish students say UC Irvine is safe

Student leaders refute claims of dangerous anti-Semitism.

IRVINE – Jewish student leaders at UCI took the unusual step this week of issuing a press release saying Jewish student life is thriving there, and no one is in danger from anti-Semitism on campus.

The move comes in the wake of assertions from outside groups that UC Irvine is so rife with anti-Semitism that it’s become an unsafe place for Jewish students.

Tensions between fervent Jewish and Muslim students on campus, primarily over the Israeli government’s relationship with the Palestinians, have spilled over into the international blogosphere and even been investigated by the federal government.

“There’s been a lot of misinformation put out about what’s going on at our school,” said UCI student Isaac Yerushalmi, 21, president of Anteaters for Israel. “Unfortunately, there are organizations out there that are very passionate and concerned, but they don’t really know what’s going on.”

The press release was issued by the presidents of four Jewish student organizations on campus, including Anteaters for Israel; Hillel: The Jewish Student Union; Alpha Epsilon Pi and Epsilon Phi fraternities.

“Jewish students are physically safe and secure on our campus … (and) Jewish life is thriving more than ever,” the release states.

Michelle Eshaghian, co-president of Hillel at UCI, said the press release came about after this week’s national Hillel meeting in Washington, D.C., at which UCI Chancellor Michael Drake was a featured speaker.

Eshaghian said she and other UCI attendees spent too much time defending their campus and Drake against what she characterized as misinformation from off-campus groups.

“They call me a liar, these people from these outside organizations,” Eshaghian said. “But I am a hard core Israel political activist, I am very Jewish, I would give up my life for Israel. I don’t know if they think I don’t care, but I do.”

The president of the Zionist Organization of America, which has been a nationally recognized conduit for complaints about anti-Semitism at UCI, discounted the statements by Jewish students who signed the statement, including Anteaters for Israel president Yerushalmi.

“This is the type of nonsense we’ve heard from this student,” ZOA President Morton Klein said. “They’re claiming it’s safe, but do they feel comfortable wearing a T-shirt saying `I love Israel?’ They acknowledge there’s verbal anti-Semitism, but if it were black students, people would say it’s intolerable.”

In 2004, the Zionist Organization of America filed a civil-rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Education over reported incidents of anti-Semitism on campus.

The federal agency reported in November that none of the 13 allegations raised could be substantiated and that there was “insufficient evidence” that the university failed to respond appropriately to complaints by Jewish students, and that most of the offensive speech that had been reported was opposing the policies of the state of Israel, and not hate speech.

The probe also found “no evidence that the University implemented a systematic discriminatory policy.”

Eshaghian said she’s never had a problem wearing Jewish slogans at UCI.

“Our Hillel T-shirt says “100 Percent Kosher” and everybody wears those,” Eshaghian said. “In fact, people who aren’t Jewish are starting to wear them too.”

Student leaders said membership has grown in Jewish organizations and more students are involved than in years past.

Eshaghian said her cousin attends UC San Diego and her brother is at UCLA, and they come across the same controversial speakers brought to UCI, though they only seem to attract outside attention at UCI.

“I can tell you during (the Muslim student association’s annual) Zionist Awareness Week in May, my cousin on Monday sees something, I see the same thing on Tuesday, and my brother sees it on Wednesday. It’s the exact same thing.”

Contact the writer: 714-796-7994 or mfisher@ocregister.com


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