Opinion: Here we go again—UC Irvine’s annual propoganda parade

Here we go again. It’s spring, and for the Muslim Student Union (MSU) at UC Irvine (UCI), spring means it’s time for the MSU’s annual weeklong propaganda parade of hate programs against Israel and calls for punishing it with boycotts and divestment. Forget the real Arab spring, during which masses of people have been risking their lives to demonstrate against dictatorial rule. The MSU is obsessed with only one issue: convincing students that the democratic state of Israel is evil, has no right to exist, and should be punished and dismantled.

Over the past ten years, UCI’s MSU propaganda carnival has featured repeat guests and occasionally new ones. But the speakers are interchangeable. Their messages are always the same. They ignore the dictatorial Middle Eastern governments that oppress their own citizens. Instead, they are cheerleaders for Israel’s destruction. On campus, students informally refer to the MSU annual event as “hate week.”

This year is no different. UCI’s MSU has not been affected by faculty, community, and student protests about the factual distortions, extremism, and anti-Semitism of its past events. Nor has the MSU moderated despite its temporary suspension last fall. (The UCI administration disciplined the group for conspiring to prevent Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren from speaking on campus in February 2010 and then lying about the premeditated action, which it tried to pass off as “spontaneous” responses during the ambassador’s speech.)

True, the blatantly anti-Semitic, demagogic Abdel Malik Ali wasn’t invited, though he has been a regular in the past. (Last year, StandWithUs CEO Roz Rothstein taped him calling for an Intifada on campus, warning students not to socialize with Jewish students, and avowing his support for Hezbollah and Hamas. This was too much even for UCI’s liberal administration.) True, there aren’t bloody israeli flags or placards equating Israel with Nazis. True, the title of this year’s events is less inflammatory. Instead of a title that accuses Israel of “genocide” or a “holocaust,” like titles used in past years, the title, “Palestine: An Invisible Nation,” seems to shift the spotlight to the Palestinians. But this apparent moderation is a deception.

The changes are superficial. Despite the seemingly more moderate title, the focus will not be on Palestinians or what they must do to build a viable state and coexist peacefully alongside Israel. Consider the preposterousness of the title. There is nothing “invisible” about the Palestinians or the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. They have held center stage in the world for decades. Instead, as always, the MSU speakers will use the Palestinians as a rhetorical device to launch another all-out assault on Israel and Israel’s supporters.

The speakers are as extremist and incendiary as in past years. They are stalwarts of the anti-Israel parade and apologists for terrorism. Three speakers are anti-Zionist Jews from the outer fringes of the Jewish community. The MSU likely invited them to deflect charges of anti-Semitism, to persuade students there is nothing anti-Jewish about demonizing Israel, or to relish watching Jews beating up on Israel.

Hedy Epstein, an elderly Holocaust survivor, sweetly spouts Hamas’ version of Israel’s history and talks about her participation in the Free Gaza flotillas. She mistakenly believes the flotillas helped “poor Palestinians,” when in fact they lent support to Hamas, the real oppressor of Gaza’s residents. Israeli Matan Cohen, a Hampshire College student and leader of Anarchists Against the Wall, has led raucous demonstrations in Israel to obstruct building of the security barrier and has spearheaded boycott and divestment movements on American campuses. Rabbi Weiss is a leader of Neturei Karta, the self-styled ultra-Orthodox group so reviled by the entire spectrum of the Jewish community that, in an unprecedented move, Jewish religious denominations “excommunicated” it in 2004. Neturei Karta and its members support and have physically embraced anti-Semites, terrorists, and leaders of regimes dedicated to Israel’s destruction, from Nation of Islam’s Louis Farrakhan to Hamas to Iranian President Ahmadinejad.

The non-Jewish speakers spew the same messages. Former U.S. Ambassador Edward Peck, who was on the pro-Hamas flotilla, claims that the IHH organization passengers who sought martyrdom and brutally attacked Israeli soldiers on the Mavi Marmara were only acting in self-defense. He has whitewashed Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Iranian-sponsored terrorist group Hezbollah, describing him as a well-meaning “educated guy,” and, for decades, he has sought to sever the close U.S.-Israel alliance. Journalist Alison Weir has made a career of fabricating lurid charges against Israel and railing against “Jewish control” of the media and American government. UC Berkeley lecturer Hatem Bazian, who once called for an Intifada in the U.S., is a leader of the anti-Israel boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaign, and he mangles history to demonize Israel and convince audiences that “justice” will be served only if Israel is dismantled.

UCI hate week could seem circus-like with its speakers performing their predictable, clownish, grotesque distortions. But there is nothing funny or benign about the events. The speakers attack Jewish identity and Jewish students with thinly veiled or blatant anti-Semitism. They assault scholarship, the historical record, and rational thought, the mainstays of academia. They misrepresent and misapply principles of international law and human rights with Orwellian results. Their numbing repetitions year after year normalize and mainstream their canards and insidiously influence apolitical students. They foment intolerance for Israelis, Jews, and Israel’s supporters, and they indirectly—or even directly—promote support for terrorists who murder Israeli men, women, and children.

A menacing threat of violence against Jews and Israel’s supporters simmers beneath the surface of the week’s events. The hate and destructiveness are also exported to other campuses. This year, the MSUs at UCLA and UC San Diego are putting on hate weeks at the same time as the UCI group so they can share props and speakers.

Most university administrations have adopted a hands-off policy about hate weeks. The MSUs refuse to moderate and have had little incentive to do so. They scrupulously avoid facts or other perspectives that would undermine their prejudices. They accuse their many critics of conspiring to silence dissent or violating academic freedom or the right to free speech, even as they attempt to muzzle those critics. They cross red lines of civility and intellectual honesty with impunity.

Given these circumstances, it is imperative that responsible administrators, faculty, and students expose the extremism, prejudice, hypocrisy, and misplaced focus of the propaganda parade. Fortunately, pro-Israel organizations and campus groups have mobilized to put on programming of their own that educates their campuses about Israel and corrects the misperceptions by portraying Israel for what it is—a nation of remarkable achievements that also faces many difficult challenges. But fair-minded people, responsible community leaders, and student groups must redouble their efforts. More than Israel’s future is at stake. As always, fanaticism and anti-Semitism corrupt and undermine a whole constellation of values, from intellectual honesty to the human rights and international law principles that were forged in the modern world but are abused and used as weapons by the propaganda parade in its single-minded hate campaign. We have seen before what can happen when such distortions and propaganda go unchecked.

Roz Rothstein is CEO of StandWithUs, a nonprofit international Israel education organization, and Roberta P. Seid, PhD, is education/research director of StandWithUs.