UCLA Jews, Muslims Alter Protest Tactics

Like Moses upholding the Tablets of the Law, Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller stood on the steps of UCLA’s Ackerman Union last week, his outstretched arms grasping a large, hand-lettered cardboard sign, which proclaimed:

Peace for Israel
Peace for Palestine
Share the Hope

Milling near the solitary UCLA Hillel director were Arab and Jewish students with competing exhibits, but to reach them a visitor had to pass through a colorful marketplace of causes up Bruin Walk.

The largest crowd was listening to the deafening rock band, Moving Units, anchoring a gauntlet of tables, leafleteers and displays urging students to participate in the Inaugural Bruin Cardboard Boat Race, engage in Christian Bible studies, fight drug addiction, play volleyball and so on.

At the end was a large photo collage of men and women of different races and nationalities, each asserting “I am a Palestinian” to indicate international solidarity for the cause. The announced Apartheid Obstacle Course, presented by the Guerrilla Theatre, was running an hour late.

The Bruin Walk display was one of the events organized by Muslim, Arab and supporting students as part of the weeklong “Israel and Palestine: Obstacles to Peace” program.

The low-key theme appeared to be an attempt by the sponsoring Students for Justice in Palestine to lend a respectable scholarly touch to the anti-Israel demonstrations.

If this approach indicated a higher level of sophistication by the sponsors than in previous years, so did the Jewish response, organized by Bruins for Israel.

Bruin Walk was dotted with graphic pro-Israel posters aimed at different campus constituencies.

“Where in the Middle East Can Gay Officers Serve Their Country?” asked one poster, answering, “Only in Israel.” Other posters, with the same bottom line, queried, “Where in the Middle East Can Arab Women Vote?” and “Where in the Middle East Are Daughters Valued as Much as Sons?”

Smack in front of the Palestinian display stood 21-year-old Michael Smoyman, a yarmulke on his head and holding a sign inscribed, “Obstacle to Peace: Suicide Bombing.”

As Seidler-Feller’s arms grew tired of holding the peace poster, he was approached by George Malouf, an Arab graduate student from Gaza, who took over the rabbi’s sign and post.

When the “apartheid wall” finally arrived, it lead to a mind-bending face-off between Arab students dressed as Israeli soldiers manning roadblocks, and Jewish students dressed as suicide bombers and carrying such signs as, “If I were a Palestinian suicide bomber, you would be dead now” and “If I were your neighbor, you would want a fence, too.”

Two campus cops on bicycles were on hand to break up a threatening scuffle, but on the whole the week’s mood was largely nonconfrontational.

It was quite a different story a week earlier at UC Irvine, which for the past three years has witnessed militant anti-Israel agitation during Palestine Week.

Instead of UCLA’s benign “Obstacles to Peace” slogan, the theme of the UCI Muslim Student Union was “Holocaust in the Holy Land,” featuring lectures on such topics as “Israel: The Fourth Reich.”

Amir Abdel Malik Ali, a Black Muslim imam and veteran rabble-rouser given to bloodcurdling threats against Israel and “Zionist Jews” spoke at both UC campuses.

While he pulled out all the stops at an UCI outdoor rally, at UCLA he spoke to some 70 people in an indoor auditorium in a considerably calmer and less vituperative voice.

Allyson Rowen Taylor, associate director of the regional American Jewish Congress chapter, monitored the UCI events and, shocked by the hostile atmosphere, said “I now understand what it’s like to be a Jew in pre-war Germany or an American Embassy hostage in Tehran.”

Jeffrey Rips, the Hillel executive director at UCI, said that while there was general agreement that free speech should not be abrogated on campus, the administration had the right and duty of exercising its free speech by publicly condemning anti-Semitic demonstrations and hate harangues.

This point represents a long-standing demand by such groups as the Anti-Defamation League, StandWithUs, the American Jewish Committee, the Jewish Federation of Orange County and some UCI faculty members, who protested this year’s events to Chancellor Michael V. Drake.

The U.S. Office of Civil Rights of the Department of Education is currently investigating charges by the Zionist Organization of America that the UCI administration has failed to take a stand against anti-Semitism and to prevent harassment of Jewish students on campus.

To balance the dour campus picture, Rips said that except during Palestine Week, there was little tension between Muslim and Jewish student the rest of the year.

While some Jewish students, especially freshmen, were intimidated in the past by the militancy of Muslim students, who outnumber Jewish students, “now you see students wearing kippot and ‘I’m Proud to be Jewish’ T-shirts, and we also had a large sukkah on campus,” he said.

Rips blamed the tenser atmosphere at UCI, compared to UCLA, on a more radicalized Muslim student group, which takes its cues from Malik Ali, and the fact that UCI has become the main media focus for national Arab-Jewish campus tensions.

General and Jewish papers ran extensive stories on UCI’s Palestine Week; UCLA’s was covered only by the campus daily.


Community Briefs

Hillary Clinton to Speak on Forgiveness at Temple

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) will speak on Yom Kippur, Oct. 13, at Temple of the Arts in Beverly Hills.

Clinton will deliver a 10-12 minute speech on forgiveness, as part of Rabbi David Baron’s “living sermons,” which typically feature well-known guests.

Past participants have included Dr. Judea Pearl, father of slain journalist Daniel Pearl; Steve Emerson, a counterterrorism expert; Peter Zvi Malkin, the Israeli agent who captured Adolf Eichmann; Cmdr. Scott Waddle, whose nuclear submarine accidentally killed a group of Japanese tourists; Bill Bingham, whose father rescued artist Marc Chagall; and John Miller, who left ABC News to handle counterterrorism for the Los Angeles Police Dept.

“A living sermon means instead of me quoting them or their books, I can present them in person,” Baron told The Journal.

It was after reading the senator’s book, “Living History,” that Baron asked Clinton to speak to his congregation, which numbers as high as 1,800 on Yom Kippur. The service will be held at the synagogue’s new permanent home at the historic Wilshire Theatre, 8440 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills.

“Living History” was the former first lady’s 2003 perspective on events in the Clinton presidency.

“For me, [her book] was about forgiveness and functioning, when you have people who want to harm you on personal or professional level, and she was an exemplar of forgiveness,” Baron said.

He began communicating with her a couple of years ago — she was even considering coming last Yom Kippur, but her husband’s health problems detained her.

Baron believes that his guests — Jewish and non-Jewish — always have something to teach him and his congregation. “Most of us are talking about [forgiving] in the private arena, and I think someone who has to do that on both levels” — public and private — “has a lot to offer,” he said.

Forgiveness is only one part of the day’s theme. Another is how to move forward after a life-altering experience, Baron said. In that vein, another Yom Kippur guest this year will be mountain climber Aaron Ralston who had to cut off his arm in order to survive.

Will some congregants be upset that such a political persona will be speaking in temple on the holy Day of Atonement?

“I’m sure that will be the case,” Baron said, emphasizing that Clinton’s speech will be completely nonpolitical. “But again, I would hope that people will see this for what it is — an opportunity to meet someone who has something instructive to say, and that to me is the most compelling reason why I have her here.”

Her political aspirations notwithstanding, the rabbi said, “I hope that on Yom Kippur of all days people will suspend their judgment and criticism.”

For more information about Temple of the Arts tickets, call (310) 444-7500. — Amy Klein, Religion Editor

Stand With Us Premieres Campus Hate Documentary

“Zionism is a mixture of white supremacy and the chosen people,” said Abdel Malik Ali to a group of mostly Muslim students at a public event at UC Irvine in February 2005.

Such statements are not only tolerated but represent just the tip of the iceberg, warns the new documentary, “Tolerating Intolerance: Hate Speech on Campus.” The film was produced by StandWithUs, an Israel advocacy organization, and premiered last week in Los Angeles at the Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills

“I never thought of making the film until I heard these guys speak,” said Roz Rothstein, director of the documentary and national director of StandWithUs. “Racism on college campuses must be exposed and rejected.”

The film, made for $25,000, includes examples of alleged anti-Semitism on college campuses, including UCLA, UC Irvine and UC Santa Cruz.

Through interviews with students, educators and college administrators, the film also explores the fine line between free speech and incitement, demonstrating how virulent anti-Israel speeches can sometimes lead to intimidation, or in some cases, violence. The film also argues that administrators and lecturers are often complicit in encouraging anti-Israel bias through the speakers and lectures they sponsor.

“Of equal importance to protecting free speech is the moral obligation to create a civil society on the campus,” Rothstein told The Journal.

The screening before an audience of more than 400 was followed by remarks from people featured in the film, including professor Judea Pearl, father of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, and Nonnie Darwish, an Arab-American who is outspoken in her support for Israel.

Pearl, who teaches computer science at UCLA, described the anti-Israel rhetoric he has observed on campuses as a disguised form of anti-Semitism.

“We are seasoned to deal with anti-Semitism,” Pearl said, “but we are novices when it comes to anti-Zionism.”

For now, StandWithUs will screen the film on a limited basis, but ultimately intends to make the film widely available. — Orit Arfa, Contributing Writer