Anti-Semitic incidents are common at the University of California at Irvine, and the Muslim Student Union is the major perpetrator. Although not all the antisemitic events at UCI, detailed recently by Kenneth Marcus in Commentary magazine, can be traced to the MSU, those that can include physical and verbal harassment of Jewish students, posters of the Star of David dripping with blood, inversion of Holocaust imagery in which Jews are the new Nazis, and sponsorship of public speakers who accuse Jews of not being able to exist equally with other human beings, as well as accusations that Jews deliberately kill non-Jewish children for nefarious purposes.
For years, the UCI administration has ignored or condoned those activities. But the administration, finally, has sanctioned the MSU for an anti-Israel (not anti-Semitic) incident in which the union on February 8, 2010 continually disrupted a speech by Michael Oren, the Israeli Ambassador to the United States.
Ambassador Oren had been invited to speak by the School of Law, Department of Political Science, Center for the Study of Democracy, seven student groups, and community co-sponsors. The MSU, in an organized campaign, planned beforehand, as revealed by emails and minutes of an MSU meeting anonymously sent to the university administration, deliberately disrupted the lecture. There were more than ten interruptions in which MSU members screamed slogans such as “propagating murder is not an expression of free speech” “killer” and “how many Palestinians did you kill?” As they did, other students shouted and clapped.
As the disruptions occurred, the Dean of Political Science and the Chancellor pleaded with the audience to be polite and courteous . They expressed shame and embarrassment for the university. They threatened the disrupters with arrest, disciplinary procedures, and suspension and dismissal from the university. To no avail. After the disrupters finished, a large group of student supporters stood up and marched out, where they continued to shout slogans, such as “Anti-Israel, Anti-baby-killing.”
Eleven students, 8 from UCI, including the President and Vice President of the MSU, and 3 from UC Riverside, who had stood up, shouted out, and been removed by the campus police were arrested and cited for disturbing a public event.
Although the President of MSU denied any organized MSU involvement in the disruption, the emails anonymously sent to UCI administration showed that the disrupters were part of a carefully crafted plan by MSU that assigned the order of their actions and the specific statements they made. The emails also warned MSU member to deny the existence of MSU involvement.
As the university decided what actions to take, and even after the university announced its decision, the MSU and its supporters, students, faculty, and outside organizations, justified the MSU’s behavior and condemned the response of the UCI administrators.
The MSU, in appealing the proposed disciplinary action, reversed victim and perpetrator. They simply denied the evidence of the emails. They claimed that the punishment violated their First Amendment freedom of speech. They also claimed that the sanction would deprive Muslim students of a place where they could develop a sense of community, thereby jeopardizing their rights under the First Amendment. Further, they asserted that the administration had repeatedly targeted the MSU and its members for punitive actions.
The Associated Students (or student councils) of UCI, UC Davis, UC San Diego, UC Los Angeles, and UC Berkeley also condemned the UCI administrators and asserted that the MSU members had engaged in constitutionally protected freedom of speech. (All five student groups apparently believe that the First Amendment confers the right to stop other people from delivering a speech.) They demanded that all academic charges be dropped against the Irvine Eleven, and claimed that the punishment would stifle legitimate criticism of Israel, was collective punishment, and came about because of external pressure from Zionist/Jewish groups.
Fifteen identity groups, self-styled civil rights organizations and professional bar associations criticized the administration’s actions as violations of the students’ First Amendment constitutional rights. The groups were: Asian Law Caucus, Afghan-American Bar Association, American Muslims for Palestine, Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Arab Resource & Organizing Center, Center for Constitutional Rights, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, Council on American-Islamic Relations-California, Jewish Voice for Peace, Muslim Bar Association of Southern California, Muslim Legal Fund of American, National Lawyers Guild, Sikh Coalition, South Asian Americans Leading Together, South Asian Bar Association-Northern California. The Muslim Public Affairs Council called on UCI to drop the disciplinary action, praising the students for the “courage and conscience to stand up against aggression.”
In June, 2010, a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the Jewish Federation of Orange County revealed that the UCI Senior Executive Director of Student Housing had sent a letter on 5/27/2010 to the MSU. In the letter , UCI found the MSU guilty of dishonesty, obstructing disciplinary procedures, disorderly conduct, and participation in a disturbance of the peace of unlawful assembly. The recommendation was made to suspend MSU from UCI for a year beginning September 1, 2010 and then to place them on probationary status for the following year. Additionally, its members would have to collectively complete 50 hours of community service.
As allowed by university policy, the MSU appealed the recommendation to the Office of Student Affairs. The Office of Student Affairs upheld the suspension of the MSU on campus, but shortened the suspension from one year to four months, extended the probationary status to two years, and increased the collective community service to 100 hours.
The UCI administration’s disciplinary action is in sharp contrast to the administration’s past actions that did not enforce University of California policies and seemed to favor Muslim sensibilities while ignoring Jewish sentiments.
For example, in the spring of 2004, after a piece of Arab student agit-prop, a cardboard wall, intended to represent the Israeli security fence, was burned to the ground, the UCI Chancellor condemned the destruction in an email to the entire university community. In contrast, the previous year, when a Holocaust memorial created by Jewish students was destroyed, the chancellor and the administration remained silent and did nothing.
In response to the destruction of the representation of the Israeli security fence, the Muslim students organized a university-wide rally against hate. They forbade Jewish student organizations to attend. Despite such blatant discrimination against Jews, Vice Chancellor Manuel Gomez condoned the bigotry by attending and speaking at the event.
During one of the years of the second “intifada” in which Muslim suicide bombers were blowing up hundreds of Israelis, the MSU urged their graduating students at the UCI commencement ceremonies to wear green sashes that bore the word “Shahada.” The word has two meanings. Muslim students insisted on Meaning One, “There is no God but Allah and Mohammad is his messenger,” while Jewish students thought the point of the sash was Meaning Two, a martyr fighting for Islam. Despite Jewish protests, the Associate Dean of Students attempted to coerce approval from Jewish student leaders for the Muslim provocation. He told the Jewish student leaders that he was deeply disappointed because they refused to issue a statement that affirmed the MSU actions.
During 2006, MSU imposed Sharia law in UCI public classrooms on property belonging to the State of California by enforcing separation of men from women in their public meetings. UCI staff, despite their role as public servants who must uphold State law, occasionally intervened to reinforce the ban.
Disregarding California laws that mandate that meetings of public bodies shall be open to public scrutiny and that the proceedings may be taped, UCI , in contravention of the policies of the other 9 UC campuses, allowed the MSU to have the power to ban recording of their public events. Only after California Assemblyman Chuck De Vore attended an MSU event, and challenged the authority for the ban, did the university negate the wishes of the MSU, and change its policy to comply with all other UC campuses.
During the week of April 22,2009 the administration allowed MSU to use the official UC Irvine electronic billboard for an offensive advertisement of a series of anti-Israel events sponsored by the MSU, entitled “Israel: the Politics of Genocide.” Only after concerned community members protested to UC President Mark Yudof, did the UCI Chancellor have the announcement removed.
May 21, 2009, the MSU engaged in fund-raising on the UCI campus despite having filled out a required University of California form for student groups in which they denied raising funds. Eyewitnesses reported that money was contributed on campus to George Galloway, the featured speaker at the MSU-sponsored event, for his organization Viva Palestina, and that the intended recipient was Hamas. Galloway is a pro-Hamas former member of the British Parliament. Since it is against federal law to contribute to Hamas, a U.S. designated terrorist organization, the Zionist Organization of America made a formal complaint to UCI. After one year of investigation, the university did find that the MSU had violated UC policies by soliciting funds without prior approval, but they closed the case without penalty to MSU, because they could not determine whether MSU’s failure to report was negligent or intentional.
Thus, the disruption of Ambassador Oren’s lecture was hardly an isolated event. The MSU had engaged in anti-Semitic activity for years, and violated University of California policies, while the university essentially ignored or condoned these dubious activities. The incidents, however, were noted and condemned by Jewish organizations. Published in the print and electronic media, they brought bad publicity and sometimes rose to the level of legal complaints as in the Zionist Organization of America’s Title VI complaint to the Office of Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education.
Yet, the UCI administration refused to condemn MSU’s transgressions. Indeed, the administration justified its own silence. Vice Chancellor Manuel Gomez said, “One person’s hate speech is another person’s education.” Chancellor Michael Drake stated, “We have 1,000 guest speakers on campus every year. Could I evaluate them and say this one is anti-Semitic. I could not.”
Nevertheless, May 15, 2010, Chancellor Drake broke his usual silence regarding the bigoted content of the speech of MSU’s invited lecturers. He condemned an endorsement of terrorism made by Imam Malik Ali, MSU’s favorite guest speaker. One wonders whether the fact that the endorsement was caught on YouTube elicited the administration’s response.
Yet, the condemnation was startling in its appeasement of the MSU. Chancellor Drake’s statement not only ignored Malik Ali saying that “You Jews… are the new Nazis”, ignored the MSU posters with clear anti-Semitic imagery, but praised the MSU events as “the hallmark of an educational institution committed to an exchange of ideas.”
Given the years of UCI administration’s muddled policy towards MSU’s bigotry and misconduct , the administration should be commended for finally implementing its own policies and sanctioning the MSU. The administration has been a strong voice supporting free speech on campus, and now it has punished the MSU for its interference with free speech. Yet, even now, the implementation is so confusing that no one, including the MSU, can understand what is and is not prohibited. One is left with serious questions. Why, on appeal, did the administration compromise and shorten the suspension? And will the MSU halt its anti-Semitic harassment, or will it be allowed to continue as before?
Leila Beckwith is professor emeritus of pediatrics at UCLA.