Parents generally assume that college is the kind of safe haven where their sons and daughters can study without fearing that they will become exposed to hateful and volatile rhetoric. No one would like to think that their child might be subjected to verbal and physical assault due to their race, religion, or political orientation.
Unfortunately, on many college campuses, Jewish students deal with the growing trends of racism and hate crimes every day. In California alone, statistics demonstrate the shocking trend of hate crimes on college campuses, a place where people should be more open-minded and less prone to racism. According to Barbara Perry’s Hate Crimes and Bias, in 2001 there was a reported 23 percent increase in the number of incidents of a racist nature reported toward Jewish students on college campuses in California.
CBS News also reported that California currently has the fourth-highest rate of anti-Semitic activity within the United States. UC Irvine, a relatively quiet suburban university, has become a focal point for the Arab-Israeli conflict. “Israel Awareness Week,” for example, sponsored by the Muslim Student Union almost every quarter, introduces extremists who do absolutely nothing for the sake of dialogue between Jewish and Muslim students, but instead promote hate on campus.
In these presentations speakers like Amir Abdel Malik Ali and Imam Muhammed Al-Asi consider all “Zionist Jews” to be evil because they “control” everything. Jews, they claim, are the “real terrorists.” Ali and Al- Asi have gone as far as to target Jewish and pro- Israel protesters, and have suggested that Israel needs to be wiped from the earth. “They think they are superman, but we, the Muslims, are kryptonite. They know that their days are numbered,” said Imam Ali on October 5 to a crowd of roughly 200 students. Ali’s remarks drew applause and cheers from members of the Muslim Student Union.
The perpetual hateful speakers sponsored by the Muslim Student Union are nothing short of obnoxious and ridiculous; they only create a tenser environment and have already caused several cases which Jewish and pro-Israel students have been verbally and physically harassed.
As an Israeli student, I have been exposed to absurd levels of hatred and have been personally sought out because I am an active member in the community. Racism has become a reality for many students that are just like me, and we have had to learn to deal with the occasional swastikas being drawn on our dorms and apartment complexes. We do, nevertheless, have the obligation to set the record straight and educate the UCI community, to make people aware of what is going on and that being Israeli is not associated with hating Muslims. Thankfully the Hillel Foundation of Orange County and the Anteaters for Israel (AFI) has been one avenue for students to become more involved in Israel advocacy, to encourage Jewry and, most importantly, to support fellow pro-Israel students. AFI has allowed me to explore political avenues while doing UC Irvine a great service. In particular, being an active student on campus, by doing jobs such as holding a board position with AFI and working as secretary, has allowed me to find some semblance of acceptance on a campus that has become both largely anti-Israel and anti-Semitic.
While I wholeheartedly support free speech, it is incumbent upon local governments and the administrations of the University of California to exercise moral leadership, to disassociate from and condemn poisonous rhetoric and conduct that threatens the safety of students. Administrators need to be cognizant of negative behavior in order to ensure the safety of the campus as a whole.
Reut Cohen is an undergraduate student at the University of California, Irvine. This article originally appeared in The Stand With Us OC newsletter.
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