A re-screening of “Beneath the Helmet” at UC Irvine in wake of protests

“Beneath the Helmet: From High School to the Home Front” a documentary film centering on five Israeli soldiers and produced by the pro-Israel organization, Jerusalem U, will screen at University of California, Irvine (UCI) on Wednesday as part of what a press release is calling “A Safe Space for Free Speech event.”

On May 25, a screening of the film at UCI prompted members of the anti-Israel campus organization, Students for Justice in Palestine, and others to protest the screening. The approximately 10 people in the audience at the screening—which was organized by Students Supporting Israel—felt threatened enough by the protest to call police. (Although there have been reports that the screening was cancelled as a result of the protests, it was not.) The police arrived and, at the conclusion of the event, escorted attendees to their cars.

“The community is coming together to show their support for Jewish students and the community of students on campus who wish to engage in Israel programming on campus,” Lisa Armony, executive director of Hillel Foundation of Orange County, said. “We are working with the university to ensure the safety of the event and that the rights of all students are protected.”

The short Jerusalem U-produced film, “Crossing the Line 2: The New Face of Anti-Semitism on Campus,” will screen before the showing of “Beneath the Helmet.”

Guest speakers slated to appear at the event include Israel Defense Forces first lieutenant Eden Adler, one of the five soldiers featured in “Beneath the Helmet” and Elan Carr, a pro-Israel criminal gang prosecutor who is currently running for the office of Los Angeles County Supervisor.

Attendees at the May 25 screening included Eliana Kopley, a UCI student who left the event to take a phone call and who was reportedly prevented from re-entering by protestors.

UCI chancellor Howard Gillman released a statement in the aftermath of the incident that said the behavior of the protestors went beyond the type of free speech that is permissible at the campus. 

Despite the protest that occured at the previous screening, Cathy Lawhon, UCI senior director of media relations and publications, said the university is committed to accomodating events such as these screenings.

“We are an open campus, open to the community, to the events students want to put on,” she said Monday, following a meeting with UCI officials regarding the event. “We don’t discriminate based on content, so if they want to have another event it’s our pleasure to accommodate them.”

Protesters crash pro-Israel event at UCI

A May 18 protest at UC Irvine, staged by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) to oppose the screening of a film about soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), has been swiftly and strongly denounced by the university’s chancellor, Howard Gillman.

Gillman said in a May 19 statement that the actions of the protestors — which reportedly included trying to enter the classroom where the film “Beneath the Helmet” was being shown and preventing Eliana Kopley, a UCI student who left the event to take a phone call, from re-entering — went beyond the type of free speech that is permissible at the campus. 

“Last night, an incident occurred on campus that we believe crossed the line of civility, prompting me to re-emphasize our position on free speech, safety and mutual respect,” he said in an email to UCI students, employees and others. “The incident centered on a film-viewing event sponsored by Students Supporting Israel. A group of protesters reportedly disrupted the event, blocking exit paths. Participants feared for their safety, calling on our police force for assistance.”

Approximately 10 people attended the screening, which was held inside a university classroom and included discussion with Israel Fellows from Hillel of Orange County and Hillel 818, which serves students at Cal State Northridge, Pierce College and Los Angeles Valley College. 

Lisa Armony, executive director of Hillel Foundation of Orange County, was at the event. In a phone interview with the Journal, she praised the university’s response to the incident, which includes an investigation by the UCI Police Department and the UCI Office of Student Conduct. No arrests were made.

“We condemn the behavior that took place. We condemn the harassment of Jewish students,” she said. “There is no excuse for the behavior that took place on Wednesday night. At the same time, it is important to note we are appreciative of what the university is doing. They are taking this extremely seriously.”

She described the event as the worst anti-Israel activity to occur at the school since 2010, when members of the university’s Muslim Student Union disrupted an event featuring then-Israel Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren. Several students were arrested at that incident. 

Cathy Lawhon, senior director of media relations and publications at UCI, said the school had been making inroads with regards to the tensions between pro- and anti-Israel students in recent years.

“There has been a lot of work on campus with our students’ affairs team to get the groups together and have a lot of dialogue and try to increase some understanding of each others’ points of views and opinions,” she said. “Things have been fairly calm for the last five and a half years on these issues.” 

She said that Palestinian Awareness Week at UCI was three weeks ago, which “went very smoothly — no problems, no confrontations.” 

The recent protest broke out outside the classroom about 30 minutes into the movie screening, Armony said. She said she called the campus police and that the police showed up and managed to keep the protestors at a distance. When the event was over — the event went on as planned, she said — police escorted attendees of events to their cars.

The screening was part of a weeklong series of events at the school organized to celebrate the State of Israel. 

Video footage of the protest, featured on the website Campus Reform (campusreform.org), which is focused on college news, shows the protestors chanting, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, the IDF has got to go,” “When people are occupied, resistance is justified” and more.

SJP, for its part, said in a May 18 statement on its Facebook page that the protest was a successful demonstration “against the presence of IDF soldiers on campus.” Armony countered that there were no IDF soldiers that took part in the event — not that there would have been anything wrong with that. 

“[It is] totally within students’ rights to brings soldiers on campus, but there were no soldiers,” she said.

Daniel Carnie, a first-year graduate student at UC Irvine studying comparative literature, who is a member of Jewish Voice for Peace, said he participated in the rally, describing the demonstration as a nonviolent protest against the presence of former Israeli soldiers, the two Israel Fellows, on campus. A Students Supporting Israel flyer promoting the event described it as “The Heroes of Israel: ‘Beneath the Helmet’ Screening and Panel Discussion.”

“What happened is that we staged a nonviolent verbal protest outside of the room where the film was being screened. That’s the entire story. The cops didn’t have a problem. No one was blocking any entrance. Legal observers could confirm all of this,” Carnie said. “That’s the whole story.”

Finding the silver lining in another BDS loss

Although pro-Israel groups roundly condemned the most recent passage of an Israel divestment resolution in California — this time by UAW 2865, a union that represents 13,000 University of California graduate students — the actual results may depict a student body that tends less for or against Israel, and more toward a general apathy over the divestment debate that has played out on UC campuses over the last few years.

In the Dec. 4 vote among UC graduate students, 65 percent of the 2,168 students who voted at nine campuses voted to call on UC administrators to divest the system’s financial investments from Israeli government institutions and from companies that assist the Israeli government in what some call its oppression of Palestinians. Of the 1,411 students who endorsed the resolution, 1,136 pledged not to “take part in any research, conferences, events, exchange programs, or other activities that are sponsored by Israeli universities complicit in the occupation of Palestine.” 

The vote made UAW 2865 the country’s first union to join the global anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. 

Although the act is only symbolic — UC administrators repeatedly have rebuffed calls to divest — the vote still marks another success for the BDS movement in the country’s largest university system. Undergraduate student governments at six of the system’s nine universities have endorsed divestment from Israel, with UCLA’s being the most recent, having voted 8-2 on Nov. 18 in favor of divestment.

At UC Berkeley, 70 percent of the 721 graduate students who cast ballots endorsed divestment. At UCLA, the margin was narrower; of the 525 graduate students who voted, 58 percent supported divestment.

But in a university system with 50,000 graduate and post-graduate students, less than 3 percent actually voted to endorse divestment, with 83 percent of the union’s 13,000 represented students sitting out the vote altogether. And at two campuses, UC Santa Barbara and UC Irvine, more graduate students opposed divestment than supported it. 

At UC Santa Barbara, the undergraduate student government rejected a divestment resolution in April by a 16-to-8 margin. The Dec. 4 results for graduate students represented by UAW 2865 were 95 against divestment and 84 in support.

And at UC Irvine, which is known for its pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel activism, only 141 students voted, with 86 opposing divestment and 55 supporting. This may come as a surprise, considering how some UC Irvine students have made the news in recent years. In 2010, for example, the school was the site of the incident involving the so-called Irvine 11, in which 11 Muslim students were arrested for disrupting the speech of then-Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren. UC Irvine also has previously played host to mock die-ins and Israeli apartheid week (termed Israel Hate Week by Israel supporters).

Lisa Armony, who previously reported on the Irvine 11 case for the Journal and is now the director of the Rose Project at Jewish Federation and Family Services in Orange County, said the political climate at UC Irvine, when it comes to Israel, has undergone major changes since the Irvine 11 incident. The Rose Project was created in 2008 as a response to over-the-top anti-Israel activism at UC Irvine and was tasked with working with administrators and student leaders to find a way to improve the climate for Israel supporters.

“The [UC Irvine] that people sort of think about is not the [UC Irvine] of today,” Armony said. “It’s a very different campus climate. I don’t think it’s correct to call  [UC Irvine] a pro-Palestinian university.” 

She also said that, in recent years, UC Irvine’s administration has worked to make sure that anti-Israel activism is “in line with campus codes of conduct.”

Moshe Lichman, a 29-year-old computer scientist pursuing a doctorate at UC Irvine, is an officer in UAW 2865 and was the lead graduate student in organizing opposition to the divestment resolution. 

“Not a lot of people campaigned for one side or the other,” Lichman said, echoing Armony’s point that Irvine is not the hotbed of anti-Israel activism that it once was. 

Searching for utopia in Orange County

The Orange County Great Park in Irvine, California bills itself as “the first great metropolitan park of the 21st century,” but until recently it was the Marine Corps Air Station El Toro. The base was commissioned in 1943 and served as an airport for President Richard Nixon as he shuttled between the Western White House and Washington, D.C. After El Toro was decommissioned in 1999, the site was dormant for years. Then, after a long and contentious debate, voters approved a plan to create the Great Park. In 2011, I was invited to be one of the park’s first artists-in-residence.

At the time, I was fascinated with what psychologists call “mental time travel”—the way old family photos or home movies can reanimate an emotion and cause you to re-experience physical sensations you felt at the time. It can also happen with historical events. Images of President Nixon’s resignation trigger a rush of feelings in me—even though I experienced the event as a 10 year old watching it on television. 

Orange County is a fertile site for Nixon time travel. The 37th president was born in Yorba Linda and lived in Whittier and San Clemente. I wondered if, when he visited El Toro, he ever stood on the site of my temporary art studio. When I looked out the window at the rows of newly planted date palms, I tried to picture jets on the runway, Marines in jeeps, and 5,000 supporters pressed against a chain-link fence waiting for the president to descend from the sky—to time travel to that unforgettable day in 1974 when Nixon landed here, a few hours after flashing his famous “V” sign and boarding his helicopter on the South Lawn of the White House for the last time.

I decided to see if I could trigger people’s “involuntary memories”—memories evoked by cues rather than conscious effort. I wanted to know if the former base was haunted for others, too. So every Sunday for seven months, I went to the park to hold “open studio” hours and asked people to tell me their memories of Richard Nixon. As people visited with me and told me stories, I worked on large pen and ink drawings based on well-known images from the Nixon presidency, and I made drawings to illustrate the personal stories I had collected from park visitors over the previous weekends.

The Vietnam War figured into many of those conversations. Every American man over the age of 60 told me his draft number and how he either served or avoided the war. People also told me about the antiwar protests at nearby UC Irvine, which surprised me. I taught in the university’s art department for five years and never heard anything about student protests.

In fact, I had an impression of Irvine as a placid postwar utopia. In conversations with park visitors, I heard about neighborhoods where you “felt like you were in the best place.” People told me about growing up in the newly built housing tracts of the planned community and described how the town smelled of the Eucalyptus trees planted as a windbreak between the orange groves and lima bean fields.

Irvine was a lima bean farm until 1960 when the University of California bought 1,000 acres from James Irvine for $1. At that time, California had a problem: the children of the postwar baby boom were reaching college age and would soon overwhelm the state’s educational institutions. UC Irvine was one of three new campuses to open between 1960 and 1965. President Lyndon B. Johnson presided at the UC Irvine dedication.

The layout of the UC Irvine campus and an adjacent community planned for 50,000 residents was designed by William Pereira, the architect who drafted the master plan for LAX. In photographs that ran in the September 6, 1963 issue of Time magazine, a dashing Pereira gestures to his blueprint of subdivisions and cul-de-sacs—“the perfect place to live, work, shop, play, and learn,” as described by Irvine Company literature.

How did the Vietnam War transform this brand-new utopian campus? Inspired by my interviews at the park, I decided to investigate in the UC Irvine Archives and Special Collections at the Langston Library.

A sleeve of 35mm slides from October 4, 1965, opening day of the University of California, Irvine reveals many buildings still under construction, and bare ground dotted with fragile saplings staked to posts. Smiling girls with bouffant hairdos and boys with crewcuts carry armloads of books through William Pereira’s vision of the perfect future—all space age cement curves and expressionistic patterned facades.

Just a year and a half later, the students don’t look as happy. In a fat folder of slides from January 23, 1967, I find young people assembled with unmistakable seriousness on the steps of the Gateway Plaza to protest the firing of UC President Kerr for his lenient treatment of Free Speech Movement activists (at the urging of recently elected Governor Ronald Reagan). The students are holding hand-lettered signs that say: “In Memoriam Clark Kerr” and “R-E-A-G-A-N Doesn’t Spell FREEDOM.”

May 4 1970, Irvine

I see the students becoming more radicalized in dress and demeanor year by year. In bound volumes of The New University, the student paper, I read about how the campus participated in the nationwide Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam in October 1969. In faded slides, the clean-cut boys of 1965 are now shaggy-haired and shirtless. Girls have ditched their curlers for straight hair parted in the middle like Joan Baez, and they’re wearing jeans. They wear black armbands, and many students are barefoot. The crowd has swollen, completely filling the stairs, and legs are dangling from the library balcony.

Visitors to my Great Park studio had described their memories of April 30, 1970, when President Nixon appeared on television with a giant map of Southeast Asia to announce his expansion of the war into Cambodia. In response, students at over 400 colleges and universities went on strike. In a photo from May 4, 1970, the UCI plaza and library are occupied and no one is smiling anymore. In one photo, a crowd holds signs that read: “Did Dick Ask Us?” and “Does your government represent YOU?”

I don’t think the protestors know it yet—the 24-hour news cycle hadn’t been invented— but National Guardsmen in Ohio opened fire on an unarmed crowd at Kent State University at 12:24 p.m. that same day, killing four students and injuring nine. Based on the angle of the sun and shadows on the plaza, the massacre in Ohio has already happened. It’s a weird feeling to know this has happened when the students in the photo do not yet know.

The speed of the transformation at Irvine is what affects me the most. In the five years since 1965, these brand-new buildings became symbols of an establishment the students felt had betrayed them. The students rejected the utopia that was created for them, not in a symbolic sense, but literally—this utopia was created for them.

The story of war protest at UCI may not be as historically significant or well-known as the protests at Berkeley, the University of Michigan, and Columbia University. But it is a microcosm of the rise and fall of the postwar American Dream. 

I think about Pereira’s vision for a college campus as a tranquil utopia in an orderly, planned Southern California city, and try to reconcile that idea with images of Ohio guardsmen positioning their M-1 rifles in front of the pagoda on a picturesque campus 2,000 miles away. Tear gas blurs the silhouettes of students fleeing the Modernist cement buildings of Kent State, and in other pictures students crouch in a parking lot over the fallen bodies of their classmates. I guess it’s hard to “master plan” for some futures.

I put my folders back on the cart to be reshelved, wondering how long it will be until someone else asks to look at them. I emerge from the library into the late afternoon sun, blinking with the disorientation of a time traveler. I half expect to see picket signs and girls in ponchos. The Gateway Plaza is swarming with students, but they are of all different ethnicities, not the primarily Anglo students of the late 1960s. They are not shaggy but groomed and gelled. They’re texting on smartphones as they race purposefully to class. They have skateboards and backpacks, and it’s hard to imagine them protesting anything—not because they seem apathetic or indifferent, but because they’re so diverse it’s hard to imagine a single cause that could galvanize all of them. 

The campus bears so little resemblance to the master plan that it’s hard to locate all eight original Pereira buildings amidst the expansion and constant construction. When I find them, the Brutalist buildings look dated and a little cartoony, dwarfed and crowded by giant glass and steel laboratories. The products of more recent architects—and their visions of an entirely different future—colonize every square foot of available space.

Deborah Aschheim is an artist who makes installations, drawings, and sculptures as part of a long-term investigation of personal and collective memory. Her project, “Involuntary Memories,” will be exhibited at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum from July 26 to September 28, 2014. 

This article was originally written for Zocalo Public Square.

UCI rejects divestment

A resolution passed by the UC Irvine undergraduate student council calling on the university to divest from companies that “profit from Israel’s occupation of Palestine” has been rejected by the UCI administration.

At the same time, leaders of the Orange County Jewish community denounced “the nonbinding resolution, drafted and introduced with no forewarning by a small group of students with a personal agenda and deliberated in the absence of students with opposing views.”

The Nov. 13 student council resolution, titled “Divestment from Companies that Profit from Apartheid” and passed unanimously 16 to 0, asked the UCI administration, and the UC system as a whole, to divest specifically from Caterpillar, General Electric, Hewlett-Packard, Raytheon and other companies.

In a news release, the student council described the resolution, introduced by council members Sabreen Shalabi and Shadi Jafari, as “a historic move that could initiate a domino effect across American campuses.”

In response, the UCI administration released a statement on Nov. 14 on the resolution stating that “such divestment is not the policy of this campus, nor is it the policy of the University of California. The UC Board of Regents’ policy requires this action only when the U.S. government deems it necessary. No such declaration has been made regarding Israel.”

Shalom C. Elcott, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation & Family Services of Orange County, lauded the strong ties between UCI and Israeli universities and promised that this work “will not be undermined by divisive efforts … that are contrary to the interests of students.”

In past years, the UCI campus has been the scene of numerous incidents between Muslim and Jewish students, with some Jewish groups criticizing the administration for its failure to take remedial action.

However, earlier this year, UCI Chancellor Michael Drake led a faculty delegation to Israel, which signed cooperation agreements with Ben-Gurion University, Hebrew University, Technion and Tel Aviv University.

UC-Irvine student senate approves non-binding divestment resolution on Israel

[UPDATE, NOV. 15] A resolution passed by the UC Irvine undergraduate student council calling on the university to divest from companies that “profit from Israel’s occupation of Palestine,” has been rejected by the UCI administration. More.

[NOV. 14] The student senate of the University of California, Irvine unanimously passed a non-binding resolution calling on the school to divest from companies doing business with Israel.

All 16 members of the legislative council of the Associated Students of UCI voted for the resolution on Tuesday that calls on the university to divest from companies that “have promoted and been complicit” in “ongoing human rights violations systematically committed by the Israeli government.”

The companies are Caterpillar, Cement Roadstones Holding, Cemex, General Electric, Hewlett-Packard, Raytheon, Sodastream and L-3 Communications.

The measure also calls for a further examination of university assets” for investments in companies that profit from human rights abuses anywhere in the world.” It refers to what it calls “Israel's system of apartheid,” saying that “as the example of South Africa shows, it is imperative for students to stand unequivocally against all forms of racism and bigotry globally and on campus.”

The student government’s executive board must pass the resolution before it advances for consideration by the Irvine administration.

Irvine would become the first California university to divest from companies doing business with Israel.

“Our work today stands tall in the noble tradition of students advocating for justice, joining the ranks of those brave and visionary students who demanded that our Universities divest from the terrible crimes of South African apartheid,” said Sabreen Shalabi, a co-author of the legislation, in a statement issued by the council.

Tel Aviv University, UC Irvine collaborate

In 2025, more than 8 billion people are projected to inhabit our globe, linked by advanced communication devices and techniques.

Israeli and American electrical engineers and computer scientists from Tel Aviv University (TAU), the University of California, Irvine (UCI) and industry will examine the shape of this future at the conference on Communications and Information Technology 2025, hosted by UC Irvine, Oct. 16-17.

If the recent past is a guide, the growth in communications will be explosive. Since 2000, telecommunication bandwidth has increased by 100,000 times, and the number of cell phone users from two per 1,000 people in 1990 to 500 per 1,000 today.

In the last eight years alone, Wikipedia has gone from 100 million words to 2 billion words in 249 languages.

A primary goal of the conference, said Gregory Washington, dean of UCI’s Henry Samueli School of Engineering, is to leverage the respective expertise of the UCI and TAU faculties toward the development of new research projects, new products and spinoff companies.

Besides advancing the state of the art in information technology, the conference signals the first results of recent UCI agreements for academic and student collaboration with Ben-Gurion University, Hebrew University, the Technion and TAU, spearheaded by UCI Chancellor Michael Drake.

In past years, the UCI campus has been in the news — at least the Jewish news — mainly for its history of incendiary denunciations of Israel, harassment of Jewish students, confrontations between Muslim and Jewish students, and charges that the campus administration failed to take remedial action.

In a counter measure, the Jewish Federation & Family Services of Orange County in 2008 established the Rose Project, charged with working with administration and student leaders to change the campus climate. The Rose Project — under director Lisa Armony, who has been an occasional freelance writer for the Journal — is a co-sponsor of the conference and will host the Oct. 15 “Celebration of the Israel-UCI Partnership” with Henry Samueli, chairman and co-founder of Broadcom Corp., and Israel Consul General in Los Angeles David Siegel. To register for this event, visit jewishorangecounty.org.

Siegel also will deliver a keynote address at the Oct. 16 conference dinner, as will Ehud Heyman, dean of the Iby and Aladar Fleischman Faculty of Engineering at TAU.

For information on the conference, visit

‘Irvine 11’ attorneys appeal conviction

Attorneys for 10 Muslim students convicted of disrupting a speech given by Israeli ambassador at UC Irvine last year, filed a notice of appeal Wednesday, arguing that the law used to convict the students was “vague and unconstitutional.”

The students — three from UC Riverside and seven from UCI — were found guilty of conspiring to and then disrupting a speech given by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren on Feb. 8, 2010.

The high-profile case garnered national debate over free speech rights and has divided Jews and Muslims as well as some within the Jewish community for more than a year.

On Sept. 23, Superior Court Judge Peter J. Wilson handed down his sentence of three years probation, which would be cut to a year if the students complete 56 hours of community service by Jan. 31 and pay $270 in fines. Charges against an 11th co-defendant have been tentatively dropped.

In the courtroom, Orange County Assistant District Attorney Dan Wagner argued that Oren was “shut down” and “censored.” But the defendants’ six defense attorneys argued that the students acted within the law and were exercising their right to free speech

Susan Kang Schroeder, chief of staff for Wagner, said the notice of appeal was expected.

“They were defiant of the jury’s verdict from the start and said they would be filing an appeal,” she said. “We will for sure file an objection. We believe the defendants got more than a fair trial.”

Avoid zero-sum thinking

The journalist Robert Wright argues in his book “Nonzero” that communication, cooperation and trust increase the likelihood that humans can avoid that favored term of game theorists: the zero-sum game. Whereas greater complexity and nuance allow us to avoid the zero-sum trap, the more simplistic and insular we are, the more likely we are to fall into it.

One was reminded of this lesson when observing two events last week, one local and one global in scope: the conviction of 10 students from UC Irvine (UCI) for disrupting a speech by Israel Ambassador Michael Oren, and the Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations.

In the first instance, members of UCI’s Muslim Student Union (MSU) undertook, in premeditated fashion, to shout down Oren at his appearance at UCI on Feb. 8, 2010. The disruption was obnoxious and at odds with the spirit of civil discourse that we try to foster on university campuses. In response, the UCI administration sanctioned the students and suspended the MSU for an academic quarter. Inexplicably, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckus decided to pursue criminal charges against the students, as if there weren’t more important crimes to prosecute in Orange County. After the verdict was announced on Sept. 23, Rackauckus declared in rather hyperbolic fashion that “we will not tolerate a small band of people who want to hijack our freedoms.”

Sadly, some in the Jewish community regard this verdict as a triumph. Shalom Elcott, the president and CEO of the Jewish Federation & Family Services, Orange County, declared after the convictions: “While we accept the right and requirement of a public institution to provide an unfettered forum for diverse points of view, we do not, nor will we ever, support ‘hate speech.’ ” Hate speech is notoriously difficult to define, though there is a long tradition in American law of adopting a wide and tolerant view of First Amendment rights to free speech. A good, if painful, reminder of this tradition came in the recent 8-1 Supreme Court decision permitting the hateful language used by members of the Westboro Baptist Church, often at funerals of U.S. military personnel. If the speech of the Westboro members, odious as it is, is permitted, then it seems hard to argue that the words of the MSU students protesting the Israel ambassador, annoying as they may have been, should be criminalized.

What is particularly unfortunate is the sense that there is a strong Jewish interest in prosecuting this case. We should be clear: The subtext animating this interest is the desire to lend support to the cause of Israel on college campuses. In the name of defending free speech, Jewish advocates of prosecution of the Irvine students are in fact serving to chill open expression of diverse, if unappealing, views on Israel. But this is not a Jewish interest at all. Support for Israel does not and cannot rest on stifling such competing views. Nor does it require pitting Jewish interests against Muslim interests. On the contrary, American Jews and Muslims, despite differences between them over Israel, have much that joins them. Both are members of minority groups for whom the defense of free speech is an essential fortification of the foundations of democratic society. The costs of tolerance may seem high in the short term, but they are a necessary investment in freedom in the long run. This point was made with considerable clarity in 1979, in the midst of a very troubling situation, when neo-Nazis attempted to march in the streets of Skokie, Ill., home to a large number of Holocaust survivors. The executive director of the ACLU at the time, Aryeh Neier, who lost family in the Holocaust, wisely opined: “Keeping a few Nazis off the streets of Skokie will serve Jews poorly if it means that the freedoms to speak, publish or assemble any place in the United States are thereby weakened.”

Just as we should not see the criminalization of free speech in Irvine as a Jewish victory, so too we should not regard American opposition to the Palestinian statehood bid at the United Nations as a win. In the latter case, Jews who dwell within the bubble of organized communal life tended to regard President Obama’s speech last week — in which he called for direct negotiations in lieu of a U.N. bid — as a clear affirmation of support for Israel. It hardly can be denied that direct negotiations are the ideal way to solve the conflict. But they are not currently possible. The Palestinians negotiated with successive Israeli governments for nearly 20 years and are no closer to a state than before. The current Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has no intention, it seems, of uprooting settlements to make way for a territorially viable Palestinian state. And so, the Palestinians have adopted a nonviolent, diplomatic tack intended to push the hand of Israel and the United States. It is a bold gambit and one that may well fail. But after 63 years of statelessness, a condition to which Israel, neighboring Arab states and the international community all have contributed, it is understandable. The time has come to accord Palestinians self-determination. It is right, and it is just. And it is the only way to assure the long-term existence of Israel as a Jewish state. For without a division of the land between two states, the future holds only a single state.

Jews, of all people, should recognize this. Instead, we find ourselves mired in zero-sum thinking that measures our success by the failure of others. Regrettably, it also places us against the tide of both history and justice.

‘Irvine 11’ verdict keeps debate going

When all is said and done, there has been no final resolution in the “Irvine 11” case, which for more than a year has divided Jews and Muslims as well as the Jewish community itself.

After an Orange County jury deliberated for two days and found 10 Muslim students guilty of two misdemeanors on Sept. 23, Superior Court Judge Peter J. Wilson handed down his sentence a few hours later — three years’ probation, which would be cut to a year if the students complete 56 hours of community service by Jan. 31, and $270 in fines.

Defense attorney Lisa Holder said she will file an appeal in the next 30 days.

“Ultimately, we will appeal to the Supreme Court,” she said.

The students were charged with and found guilty of conspiring to and then disrupting a speech given by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren at the University of California, Irvine, on Feb. 8, 2010. Among the comments shouted that night by the defendants: “Michael Oren, propagating murder is not an expression of free speech!” and “You, sir, are an accomplice to genocide!”

Popularly known as the “Irvine 11,” the case has stirred a heated and sensitive nationwide debate on free-speech rights. On one side, Orange County Assistant District Attorney Dan Wagner argued that Oren was “shut down.” On the other, six defense attorneys argued that the students acted within the law and were exercising their right to free speech

Attorneys for the students said they plan to file and an appeal and vowed that “the case is far from over.” During a town hall meeting held Sept. 25 in Anaheim, students, their attorneys, families and supporters gathered to “plan their next move.”

The 10 students — charges against an 11th co-defendant were tentatively dropped — could have served up to one year in jail, but Wilson said jail time was not warranted because evidence showed that the students were “motivated by their beliefs and did not disrupt for the sake of disrupting.”

During the eight-day trial, Wagner argued the defendants used a “heckler’s veto,” which he said infringed on Oren’s free-speech rights.

“The right to free speech is not absolute,” Wagner said before a packed courtroom on Sept. 19. “If heckler’s vetoes were allowed, then nobody, nobody, none of us would have the right to free speech.”

He stated that the students knew the university’s rules on disrupting a speaker. He showed video clips of university officials pleading with demonstrators to behave, and showed numerous e-mails sent between students and the Muslim Student Union planning the disruption as well as discussing the possibility of arrest and potential punishment as evidence that the students “knew the risk of their action and proceeded anyway.”

The six defense attorneys argued that the students acted within the law by doing what other demonstrators have done on college campuses across the United States, and most certainly at UC Irvine.

The jury — composed of six men and six women — disagreed.

Defense attorney Dan Stormer said he was disappointed in the verdict, saying that it could take away the very right that the United States was founded on.

“You cannot convict people in this country based on the content of their speech,” he said.

Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the UC Irvine School of Law, called the case “divisive” and the convictions “harsh.”

He said that using speech to silence another’s First Amendment right is not constitutionally protected, and he agrees that the students broke the law. But Chemerinsky believes the District Attorney’s office made a “terrible mistake” in prosecuting the case.

“I think it’s a shame that they now have misdemeanor convictions,” he told the Los Angeles Times, referring to the 10 students.

Shalom Elcott, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation & Family Services, Orange County, which was also a sponsor of the Oren event, said the verdict is exactly what he was anticipating.

“The verdict reaffirms that the Muslim Student Union’s planned, systematic use of disruptions to trample on the free speech of others crossed the moral, social and intellectual line of civility and tolerance,” he said. “While we accept the right and requirement of a public institution to provide an unfettered forum for diverse points of view, we do not, nor will we ever, support ‘hate speech.’ ”

Elcott said he will continue to advocate for “constructive dialogue in place of the hateful rhetoric that’s been used under the guise of free speech. It is counterproductive to any and all efforts to ensure the free exchange of ideas.”

In an op-ed for the Orange County Register, David Lehrer, president of Community Advocates and former regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, and Joe Hicks, vice president of Community Advocates, wrote that the students made “a conscious decision to disrupt and harass a guest speaker on a university campus.”

“As the court record and numerous documents make clear, the Muslim Student Association membership wanted to disrupt, not engage with, the ambassador. Prior to the lecture, the Muslim Student Association members signaled both their intention to disrupt and their contempt for the notion of civil dialogue and the exchange of ideas — and disrupt they did,” they wrote.

Supporters of the students labeled the verdict “a travesty of justice” at a press conference outside the courthouse.

“It’s a tragic and disgraceful day in the history of Orange County,” said the Rev. Wilfredo Benítez, rector of Garden Grove’s St. Anselm of Canterbury Episcopal Church. “This attack against Muslim students and the Muslim community is an attack against democracy; it’s an attack on all of us.”

But prosecutors have said from the beginning and have reiterated throughout the trial that they were not targeting a specific group.

“It’s not Islamophobic; it’s not against or for any particular group,” Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said. “This is strictly about the rule of law and not allowing one group to shut down another. And, if it was the opposite and it was an Israeli group shutting down a Muslim group, we’d do exactly the same thing.”

Rackauckas said the jury sent “a strong message that First Amendment rights belong to everybody, and we will not tolerate a small group wanting to shut down speeches on a campus or anyplace.”

Reem Salahi, a defense attorney representing two of the students, disagreed.

“This is merely an admonition to be polite. But in America, we don’t prosecute people for being impolite,” she said.

Ameena Qazi of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said, “When history books are written and this case comes to its final conclusion … the ‘Irvine 11’ will stand alongside other civil rights heroes.”

Verdict reached in 'Irvine 11' case [UPDATE]

UPDATE [11:45 a.m.] All 10 students found guilty on two misdemeanor counts of conspiring to and then disrupting a speech given by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren at the University of California, Irvine on Feb. 8, 2010. Sentencing will follow later today.

Wednesday, Sept. 21.
After two days of closing arguments, the fate of 10 Muslim students has been handed over to an Orange County Superior Court jury, who began deliberations today.

The students — eight currently at UC Irvine and three UC Riverside graduates — are charged with two misdemeanor counts of conspiring to and then disrupting a speech given by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren at the University of California, Irvine on Feb. 8, 2010, and could face a sentence ranging from a year in jail to probation with community service and fines.

The case, which began Sept. 7, boiled down to closing arguments on Monday and Tuesday, Sept. 19-20, from six defense attorneys and the prosecution.

Popularly known as “Irvine 11,” the case has stirred a heated and sensitive debate on free speech rights, which each attorney spent considerable time discussing.

On one side, the Orange County district attorney’s office is contending that the 10 students on trial — charges against an 11th co-defendant were tentatively dropped — prevented Oren from speaking freely. They are contending that freedom does have limits, specifically when “it imposes on someone else’s freedoms.”

“The right to free speech is not absolute,” Deputy District Attorney Dan Wagner said before a packed courtroom of nearly 200, with more waiting in the hall on Monday. “If hecklers’ vetoes were allowed, then nobody, nobody, none of us would have the right to free speech.”

The defense argued that the students acted within the law by doing what other demonstrators have done on college campuses across the United States, including at UC Irvine.

“This is merely an admonition to be polite,” Reem Salahi, a defense attorney representing two of the students, said. “But in America, we don’t prosecute people for being impolite.”

Dan Stormer, another defense attorney, stayed along these same lines saying, “Being rude may be unpleasant, but it’s not unlawful.”

Defense attorney Jacqueline Goodman went so far as to liken the 10 students to Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez.

“It’s rude, absolutely,” Goodman said, referring to the 10 disruptions made by the students. “These are people who stood up because their conscience demanded it. The government wants you to call them criminals. They’re using all their might to call these extraordinary young men — these heroes — criminals.”

Although Oren did complete his speech, a planned question-and-answer session was cut from the program. The district attorney attributes this to the time lost because of “disruptions.”

The facts in the case are not in dispute — both sides agreed that the students planned and executed last February’s protest and were then escorted out and arrested by security officials.

Deputy D.A. Wagner said the subject chosen by the students in their protest was irrelevant. He said it not only infringed on the rights of Oren himself, but also on the rights of the 700 people in attendance that night.

The students could have stood up and yelled, “Mickey Mouse, Mickey Mouse, Mickey Mouse!” Wagner said, and the result would have been the same. “Once the rules are getting broken like that, you don’t know what’s going to happen. Yes, that’s anarchy. I suppose that’s where they want to go.”

The students’ plan, carefully crafted, drafted and laid out, was intended to halt Oren from speaking, Wagner said.

“The plan was to shut Oren down,” he said. “The plan was to shut the event down. And that is exactly what the students and their disruptions did. They shut it down.”

But the defense argued that the students’ actions were of “normal custom for such an event” when they stood, one by one, and read a statement from a notecard. The defense stated that the students had no intention of “shutting down” the speech.

Near the end of Salahi’s argument, she wanted to share a personal story unrelated to the trial, but Wagner objected and Superior Court Judge Peter J. Wilson said she couldn’t proceed.

She paused for a moment, then told the jury, “I can’t tell you the story — I got shut down,” to thunderous applause and cheering from the courtroom.

This outburst caused Wilson to warn those in attendance that he “would clear the courtroom if there was another outburst from the public.”

So were the students exercising their right to free speech or were the students indeed breaking the law?

Wagner stated strongly that the students did indeed break the law, adding that the rules for the event were laid out clearly by both the moderator and chancellor.

“The rules were clear, and made crystal clear as the night went on,” he said. “It was always [their] plan to break the rules. They never intended on following the rules.”

Wagner used video clips of university officials pleading with demonstrators to behave, and showed numerous e-mails sent between students and the Muslim Student union planning the disruption and discussing the possibility of arrest and potential punishment as evidence that the students “knew the risk of their action and proceeded anyway.”

But defense attorney Dan Stormer said the students had the right to protest and plan a protest. Although “being rude may be unpleasant, it is not unlawful,” he said.

“You may not like what I have to say, but you gotta love the fact that I have the right to say it,” Stormer said.

The case, Wagner said, is about the students acting as censors to prevent a free flow of ideas, and he pointed out to the jury that the “right to free speech is not absolute.”

“Who is the censor in this case?” Wagner asked the jurors. “Right there — 10 of them.”


Mosques organize prayer for 'Irvine 11'
'Irvine 11' plead not guilty in Oren incident
'Irvine 11' wants D.A. removed from case
Drop charges against 'Irvine 11,' Jewish faculty urges

‘Irvine 11’ students found guilty [UPDATE: SENTENCING]

[UPDATED: 3:00 p.m.]  This story has been updated to add the recent sentencing of the convicted students.

After two days of deliberation, the jury in the “Irvine 11” case returned a verdict. An Orange County jury on Friday found 10 Muslim students guilty of two misdemeanors, conspiring to and then disrupting a speech given on Feb. 8, 2010, by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren at the University of California, Irvine.

As the verdict was read Friday morning, several women broke down in tears and others walked out of Superior Court Judge Peter J. Wilson’s courtroom. As the gallery showed a great deal of emotion, the students remained calm and had no reaction.

Two hours later, Wilson sentenced each of the 10 defendants to three years of informal probation and 53 hours of community service.

Popularly known as “Irvine 11” — charges against an 11th co-defendant were tentatively dropped — the case has stirred a heated and sensitive debate on free-speech rights. On one side, Orange County Assistant District Attorney Dan Wagner argued that Oren was “shut down.” On the other, six defense attorneys argued that the students acted within the law and were exercising their right to free speech.

Reem Salahi, one of the defense attorneys, representing two of the students, said, “This is merely an admonition to be polite. But in America, we don’t prosecute people for being impolite.”

Orange County Jewish Federation & Family Services President and CEO Shalom C. Elcott said, “The verdict reaffirms that the Muslim Student Union’s planned and systematic use of disruptions to trample on the free speech of others crossed the moral, social and intellectual line of civility and tolerance. While we accept the right and requirement of a public institution to provide an unfettered forum for diverse points of view, we do not, nor will we ever, support ‘hate speech.’ ”

Shalom said he will continue to advocate for “constructive dialogue in place of the hateful rhetoric that’s been used under the guise of free speech. It is counterproductive to any and all efforts to ensure the free exchange of ideas.”

Shakeel Syed, executive director of the Islamic Shura Council, disagrees with Shalom, calling the “Irvine 11” guilty verdict the “death of democracy in our country.”

Ameena Qazi of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said, “When history books are written and this case comes to its final conclusion … the ‘Irvine 11’ will stand alongside other civil rights heroes.

“We were remaining optimistic and hopeful that justice would prevail … I hope that this case goes forward and that free speech prevails at the end of the day. At this point, we’re all losing — we’re all losing our rights.”

Irvine Chabad House hit by potted plant

A potted plant was thrown through the front window of the Chabad House at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) on Tuesday, May 31.  The building is the site of regular Friday night and holiday dinners for UCI students and serves as the residence of UCI Chabad co-directors, Rabbi Zevi Tenenbaum and his wife, Miriam.

The incident took place at around 1:30 in the afternoon, according to a written statement issued by Tenenbaum.  A housekeeper was the only person inside the building at the time.  No one was injured.

The Chabad House is located adjacent to the UCI campus and is marked by a menorah on the front patio.

The plant thrown at the Chabad House window had been stolen from a porch of a neighboring home and shattered the glass, according to Julia Engen, press information officer for the Irvine Police Department.  It was deflected by the window screen and did not enter the home.  Police have no suspect information, but have not ruled out the possibility of a hate crime.

“We are investigating this in a comprehensive manner,” Engen said.  “There is nothing indicating that it is a hate crime, but we won’t discount that until we know who did it and why.” 

UCI has been the site of ongoing tension between Muslim and Jewish students.  In May, the university’s Muslim Student Union hosted its annual, weeklong program of Israel bashing featuring anti-Israel speakers and calls for boycotts and divestment from Israel.  That program was followed two weeks later by i-Fest, a celebration of Israeli culture sponsored by the pro-Israel student group, Anteaters for Israel.

Engen said that there is no indication that the incident was related to events at UCI and she is not aware of any similar incidents.

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.

UC Irvine faculty to DA: drop criminal charges

One hundred faculty members at the University of California, Irvine (UCI), have called on Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas to drop criminal charges against 11 current and former students arrested in February 2010 for disrupting a public speech by Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, on the UCI campus.

The district attorney’s office announced on Feb. 4 that it was filing misdemeanor charges of conspiracy to disturb a meeting and disturbance of a meeting against the defendants. On a video that circulated widely on the Internet, each defendant can be seen standing up and shouting anti-Israel statements at Oren while he was speaking at the UCI Student Center. One of the defendants, Mohamed Mohy-Eldeen Abdelgany, 23, who was then president of the Muslim Student Union (MSU) at UCI, is also charged with coordinating the disruption several days before the event.

If convicted, the defendants face sentences that could include probation with community service or fines or up to six months in jail.

The faculty signatories, who included several chancellor’s professors and seven professors of law, said they were “deeply distressed” by the district attorney’s decision to file criminal charges against the students. 

“The students were wrong to prevent a speaker invited to the campus from speaking and being heard,” the letter states. “And the Muslim Student Union acted inappropriately in coordinating this and in misrepresenting its involvement to University officials. But the individual students and the Muslim Student Union were disciplined for this conduct by the University, including the MSU being suspended from being a student organization for a quarter. This is sufficient punishment.”

The MSU was reinstated on campus last month after a four-month suspension following a university investigation that found the Muslim council had violated campus codes of conduct for planning and coordinating the disruption. UCI also placed the group on two years’ probation and has ordered members to perform 100 hours of community service.

The letter also states that use of the criminal justice system would be divisive and would risk undoing the healing process that has occurred on campus since the event took place. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has sparked critical and often hostile debate at UCI and has caused tense relations between Muslim and Jewish students.

“These events were very traumatic for the campus last year,” said Jon Wiener, a professor of history who signed the letter. “There was a lot of debate among faculty, students and between faculty and the administration about what kind of punishment should there be, was it too much, was it not enough. The suspension of the MSU has ended and they’ve returned to normal campus life this quarter and it’s very important to us that we have a community building process. We thought that was well under way and then the DA has sort of given us potentially a big setback by disrupting this process and throwing us back to the debate over how much punishment is the right amount of punishment,” he said.

Also a signatory on the petition, UCI School of Law Founding Dean Erwin Chemerinsky questioned the wisdom of the district attorney’s prosecutorial discretion in this case.

“Criminal prosecution is unnecessary and undesirable. It sets a dangerous precedent for the unnecessary use of criminal prosecution against student demonstrators,” Chemerinsky said.

On Feb. 9, Oakland-based Jewish Voice for Peace — whose Web site says it works to achieve a lasting peace that recognizes the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians for security and self-determination, and that it supports the boycott, divest and sanction movement against Israel —  delivered a petition with more than 5,000 signatures denouncing the charges. The group said members had similarly interrupted a speech by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Jewish Federations’ General Assembly in November 2010 without being arrested or criminally charged. 

“The targeting of a group of Muslim American students, who were already sanctioned and whose organization was already suspended by their university as punishment, is unacceptable and will only strengthen Islamophobia and attempts to stifle political speech in this country,” Jewish Voice for Peace said in a statement.

Susan Kang Schroeder, chief of staff for the Orange County district attorney, said her office would not be swayed by public opinion or special interest groups.

“The law against the disruption of a meeting has been on books for 100 years and was litigated at the California Supreme Court and it is constitutional,” Schroeder said. “We’re sworn to uphold and defend the Constitution. You don’t have a First Amendment right to shut down other people’s right to speak and other people’s right to hear.” 

Arraignment of the 11 defendants is scheduled for March 11 in Santa Ana.

Muslim criminals, Jewish activists?

Is there a different standard of justice in this country for Muslims and Jews when it comes to protesting Israeli officials?

A recent development here in Southern California indicates that there is.

In November 2010, I went to New Orleans along with a dozen Jewish students and young activists to participate in A Jewish Voice for Peace’s Jewish Youth Leadership Institute. That week culminated with five of my colleagues disrupting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to the Jewish General Assembly. Inside the hall, one audience member tried to choke my friend and another ripped apart one of our banners with his teeth. Afterward, however, the protest was met with enormous warmth from the public. More than 300 Jewish students signed on to our “Young, Jewish and Proud” declaration, and we received praise from many others, including Jewish columnists and journalists. Finally, young Jews had challenged the “Israel right or wrong crowd” and had used nonviolent protest to do so.

Nine months earlier, 11 Muslim students at the University of California, Irvine (UCI), did the exact same thing when Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren visited their campus. In contrast to the way we were treated, they were met with contempt. The same voices that rushed to praise us stayed dead silent. The hue and cry over their actions has led the Orange County district attorney’s office to press criminal charges against the students.

The marked difference in reactions reveals something disturbing about American discourse on the Middle East.  

After our protest, an editorial in The Jewish Journal (Nov. 12, 2010) said the salient difference between our protest and Irvine’s was that we were young Jews who saw ourselves “as representing the best interests of Israel.” This depiction of us is surprising as we have never identified ourselves collectively as Zionist or anti-Zionist and have never expressed any loyalty to the State of Israel. But our group, which includes Israelis, does see itself as loyal to the people on the ground, Palestinian and Israeli, who suffer because of Israel’s ongoing maltreatment of the Palestinians.

This makes us quite similar to the Irvine students, except that unlike us, some of them lost loved ones in Israel’s 2009 attack on Gaza that left nearly 1,400 Palestinians dead. We were upset about the same issues they were, we were as angry at Israel as they were, and we were as disruptive to the “peace” as they were. Both protests criticized Israeli policy. We shouted, “The siege of Gaza delegitimizes Israel.” The Irvine students shouted, “Defending war crimes is not free speech.” In short, the only difference between the protesters in New Orleans and those in Irvine is that the former are Jewish, the latter Muslim. 

The reality is, we as Jews get more deference than Muslims do whether we speak about the Middle East or whether we shout about it. And frankly, the difference in reactions indicates that there are some Americans who don’t want Muslim voices to be widely heard or legitimized, and feel safer when Muslims are met with a repressive response. This should trouble all of us. How can we possibly have an honest conversation about a deeply important foreign-policy issue when the specter of law enforcement harassment and life-altering criminalization hangs over the heads of Arabs and Muslims who speak up for what they believe?

During my years working on this issue, I have been called naïve, self-hating and a traitor. I have been slurred and threatened by unbalanced people. My phone number and e-mail addresses have been posted on vulgar Web sites. But the government has never joined in to try and charge me with a crime.

Israeli policies toward Palestinians affect those students at Irvine as much as they affect us, if not more; yet when they behave in the same way that protesters have behaved in America for decades, they are punished far more harshly.

The Orange County district attorney should drop the charges against these Muslim students. Anything else is discrimination, plain and simple. l

Mosques and synagogues reach across divide

American Jews and Muslims, reaching beyond the Middle East conflict, are joining hands to battle prejudices within and against their communities.

Consider some of the signs:

  • Starting next week, 50 synagogues and 50 mosques throughout the United States and Canada will get together for three days of “twinning” and intensive discussions.
  • USC, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) and an Islamic foundation have jointly established a Center for Muslim-Jewish Engagement.
  • At UC Irvine, usually pictured as a hotbed of Muslim-Jewish antagonism, student leaders of both faiths recently returned from a two-week trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories, with many preconceptions transformed into more complex and realistic views.

The transcontinental “Weekend of Twinning,” under the theme, “Confronting Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism Together,” will be held nationally Nov. 21-23, but Los Angeles will get a jump on the rest of the country. Next Monday evening, Nov. 17, Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills will host the King Fahd Mosque in Culver City, with Rabbi Laura Geller welcoming mosque director Usman Madha.

Guest speakers will be two national leaders of the twinning project, Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, and Dr. Muzammil H. Siddiqi, chairman of the Fiqh Council of North America, a body of Islamic legal scholars.

Although past attempts at Jewish-Muslim dialogues have been generally short-lived in the face of Mideast flare-ups, Geller is optimistic that the twinning project will have a long life.

“This marks the first time that mosques and synagogues are giving their full support, and we are in this for the long haul,” she said.

Madha of the King Fahd Mosque warned that linking Muslim and Jewish interests would be a hard, long process, but that the election of Barack Obama “proves that the unthinkable can happen if we set our minds to it.”

Guest speaker Siddiqi, who also heads the Islamic Society of Orange County in Garden Grove, said he was optimistic about the cooperative project and that it was widely supported by his members.

The twinning project got its start one year ago, when the New York-based Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, headed by Schneier, an Orthodox rabbi, and hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, invited 13 Jewish and 13 Muslim spiritual leaders to a meeting.

“Our goal was to enlist 25 synagogues and 25 mosques, but we ended up with double the number,” said Schneier, whose foundation has largely concentrated on Jewish-black relations.

“Both American Jews and Muslims are children of Abraham and citizens of the same country, and we share a common faith and destiny,” Schneier said.

“Of course, we cannot ignore the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — it’s the elephant in the room — but I see the emergence of moderate, centrist Muslim voices, particularly in the United States, and we must do everything possible to encourage such voices,” he added.

Urging Jews to reclaim some of the passion they invested in the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s, Schneier said that a similar outreach to Muslims “can serve as a paradigm for Europe” and perhaps even for the Middle East.

During the Nov. 21-23 weekend, twinning sessions between mosques and synagogues, as well as Muslim and Jewish student groups on campuses, will stretch from Seattle to Atlanta, and from Mississauga, Ontario, to Carrolton, Texas.

Participating in the Southland will be Beth Shir Sholom in Santa Monica with the Islamic Center of Southern California, Temple Beth El in Aliso Viejo with the Orange County Islamic Foundation and Muslim and Jewish student groups at USC and Chapman College in Orange.

The weekend meetings, which will be publicized nationally through public service announcements on CNN and a full-page ad in The New York Times, may be expected to become emotional on occasion. Indeed, guidelines for discussion leaders encourage “all participants to listen to one another in a courteous and respectful fashion, without interrupting or shouting down those with whom they disagree.”

As the concept of the twinning project evolved, Schneier turned for expert advice to the newly formed Center for Muslim-Jewish Engagement.

The center is the first of its kind and was established through an agreement signed by the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture, HUC-JIR and the education-oriented Omar Ibn Al Khattab Foundation.

The three partners, all located in the same neighborhood, had been working together for some time and have now decided to formalize their collaboration, said Reuven Firestone, professor of medieval Jewish and Islamic studies at HUC-JIR.

“There are some anti-Jewish attitudes in the Muslim world and some anti-Muslim attitudes in the Jewish world, but there is no inherent conflict between Judaism and Islam,” Firestone said. “We have much in common in our goals and aspirations.”

A respected author, Firestone has written books on “Introduction to Islam for Jews” and “Children of Abraham: Introduction to Judaism for Muslims.” Out this month is his latest publication, “Who Are the Chosen People? The Meaning of Chosenness in Judaism, Christianity and Islam.”

Firestone and Dafer Dakhil, director of the Omar Ibn Al Khattab Foundation, are the co-directors of the new center, with Hebah Farrag, a recent graduate of the American University in Cairo, as associate director.

The center’s first major project will be to compile a massive database on the key Jewish and Muslim religious texts for the general public. For instance, someone searching for an authoritative definition of “kosher” would also be referred to the Islamic equivalent, “halal.”

On a more popular level, the center is planning a film series on Jewish and Muslim topics, Farrag said.

Steven Spielberg’s Righteous Persons Foundation has provided a $50,000 start-up grant to the center, but Firestone worries about future financing.

Taking note that previous cooperative ventures between the two faiths have foundered on political and nationalistic differences, Firestone said, “We’re aware of these hurdles, but what would kill us is not trouble in the Middle East, but lack of funding. There are not a lot of Jews or Muslims who want to invest in what we are doing.”

Besides religious and academic efforts to bridge the Jewish-Muslim gap, there are also private initiatives.

One is the Levantine Cultural Center, founded seven years ago by Jordan Elgrably, an American Jew of Moroccan descent.

“We have weekly programs that draw Jews, Muslims, Christians and Bahai, and we have Arabs, Armenians, Turks — people from all over the Middle East and North Africa,” Elgrably said.

They are mostly young people, and what they have in common is a love of popular music and culture, explored, for instance, in a recent program on Heavy Metal Islam.

Elgrably estimates the Levantine Center’s e-mail list reaches some 5,000, and its core membership is around 500.

“I don’t buy into the concept of an upcoming ‘Clash of Civilizations,'” Elgrably said. “What we are aiming for is an “Alliance of Civilizations’. There is something like this in the air, and, in a small way, we are trying to create a safe place for it to develop.”

Students Learn Nuances on Interreligious Mideast Trip

The campus at UC Irvine has been pictured for years as a hotbed of hatred riven over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, making all the more remarkable the recent trip of a group of 15 Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Druze UCI students, who decided to go over there and see for themselves.

They spent two intensive weeks talking with Israelis and Palestinians, militants and peaceniks, government officials and falafel vendors, rabbis and imams, right-wing settlers and left-wing Tel Avivians, and came back with one overriding impression.

“Before we went, we had all the answers,” said one Muslim girl. “But the more we heard, the more confused we became.”

Isaac Yerushalmi, president of Anteaters for Israel (the anteater is the UCI mascot), had a similar take. “In the United States, you see everything in black and white. You don’t understand the complexity of the situation on the ground until you go there. There are a thousand different views,” he said.

“The land is so small, with more diverse opinions than I have ever encountered,” Paul McGuire said.

A Christian student observed, “Before I left, I thought all the settlers were crazy, right-wing Jews. But when we visited Ariel, I saw what they had built where there was nothing before. So maybe the settlements are not all bad.”

Before she left, Sally Moukkad’s parents warned her not to say anything against the government while she was in Israel. Once there, she found that “everybody says anything they want.”

It is one remarkable aspect of the project, called the Olive Tree Initiative, that it was conceived and organized by leaders and members of the Muslim Student Union and the Jewish Student Union, Society of Arab Students and Anteaters for Israel, as well as Hillel, Model United Nations, Middle East Studies Student Initiative, and simply interested students.

Just as noteworthy, everything was put together by the students, on their own, from holding weekly preparatory seminars for 18 months and raising $60,000 to cover expenses to lining up dozens of experts in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

The UCI administration said it could not legally sponsor or underwrite the trip, but urged the students to “just go ahead and do it.”

Most of the participants were in their late teens to early 20s, with the exception of a major catalyst of the enterprise, a 29-year old doctoral student named Daniel Wehrenfennig, working with Katharine Keith, a graduate student in Middle East studies.

Wehrenfennig had both a professional and personal interest in the project. His study and research focus is on conflict resolution and citizen dialogues, and his laboratories are Northern Ireland and the Middle East.

He is also a German who had spent two months harvesting citrus fruits in Israel and is active in the Third Generation German-Israeli Dialogue. In addition, he wanted to rectify UCI’s negative image in the media.

In early September, the group flew to Tel Aviv with an itinerary so crammed and intensive that only a bunch of college students could have hacked it.

They met with students and professors, journalists, generals and government officials and participated in give-and-take discussions in West and East Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Ramallah, Hebron, the Palestinian town of Qualqilyah, the Jewish settlement of Ariel, Nazareth, Tel Aviv and Jaffa.

Saturdays were free, so they went to the beach or sightseeing, toured the Dead Sea and Masada, studied the Bauhaus architecture of Tel Aviv and even squeezed in some shopping.

They learned about the Holocaust at Yad Vashem and prayed in synagogues, mosques and churches.

Two weeks ago, the travelers, including two advisers, reunited at the UCI Student Union and talked about their trip to a standing-room-only audience of some 500 students, who applauded each and every statement. Some questions from the audience were naïve (“I am not an Israeli or Palestinian. I am just a typical Southern California student — so why should I care?”) to the more perceptive (“How did the trip change any of your preconceptions?”).

Afterwards, a few student leaders were dragged out of a reception to talk to The Journal about the trip and about the mood and conflicts on campus.

“A few years ago, we had a pretty hateful situation here,” said Yerushalmi, the pro-Israel activist. “Now we feel quite comfortable as Jews, and no one is worried about his safety. It’s too bad that some outside people have tried to perpetuate the campus conflicts.”

Yerushalmi’s evaluation was seconded by Ali Malik of the Muslim Student Union and Amanda Naoufal, a former president of the Society of Arab Students.

For the future, the Olive Tree Initiative activists will continue to share the experiences and lessons of their trip with students at UCI and other campuses, at churches, synagogues and mosques, and at other forums.

“We are getting so many calls from other campuses that we are putting together a manual on our project for others to follow,” Wehrenfennig said.

For more information and a link to a video clip of the trip, visit http://www.uci.edu/uci/video/olivetree/

— TT

Campus hate — while down — is still a problem, wailin’ on Palin

Quiet War at UCI

We agree with the Sept 5 letter from five UCLA academics that anti-Zionism/anti-Semitism at UCLA is less severe than that at UC Irvine (“Quiet War on Campus,” Aug. 22).

However we commend The Journal for running [Brad] Greenberg’s review of the situation on American campuses. It was a comprehensive piece that included differing views about the problem’s severity, and was of great service to Journal readers who are concerned about the issue.

We disagree however with the professors’ strategic recommendations and the elitist tone of their letter. Minimization or denial will not solve the problem, nor will denigrating off campus groups who share concern about the immediate and long-range impact of campus anti-Zionism. The 20,000 faculty members who felt it necessary to form an organization, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) to combat imbalance and poor scholarship about the Middle East conflict certainly cannot be accused of being “amateurish,” promoting “shoddy research” and “propaganda,” and of not understanding the campus or “academic freedom.”

SPME’s roster includes highly acclaimed professors and Nobel Prize winners.

There is a crying need for united action so Jewish students and faculty can proudly support Israel, not only in Hillel buildings, but also in classrooms, faculty offices and on campus quads. Jewish campus institutions have a vital role to play in this effort, but they may be constrained by sensitive campus affiliations. Independent organizations also have an important role because they are freer to express student and faculty concerns about abuses, intimidation and propaganda-like distortions.

If the five academics collaborated with other well-intentioned groups, they would find them much more reasonable, open-minded and sophisticated than their letter implies.

Roz Rothstein, Executive Director
Roberta Seid, Education Director

Palin and the Jews

In response to your recent article, “Sarah Palin and the Jews” (Sept. 5), please count me as one reader who was shocked and sickened by the nastiness and pettiness of Sarah Palin’s speech [at the Republican National Convention].

If insulting community organizers, making snide remarks about Sen. Barack Obama’s popularity and mocking the location of Obama’s acceptance speech make her presidential material, then America is in serious trouble.

Jeff Goldman
Culver City

I was shocked by your flattering treatment of Gov. Sarah Palin. After picking through the trivia and smears for substance, you conclude that she “has genuinely warm relations with her Jewish constituents … and appears to have a fondness for Israel.” However, you present no evidence that she has genuinely warm feelings about Jews or genuine fondness for Israel.

Furthermore, you brush off her wearing a Pat Buchanan button when he visited her town “as a courtesy.” Come on! Would it be acceptable for her to put a sheet over her head as a courtesy if the Ku Klux Klan paraded through her town?

James Kallis
Los Angeles

I hear Jews around America saying that they are voting for Sen. John McCain because he is good for Israel. Democrats are better for Israel than McCain could ever dream to be, but now that Gov. Sarah Palin is on McCain’s ticket, there are more pressing matters at hand.

Palin recently said that the war in Iraq is “God’s task.” She’s even admitted she hasn’t thought about the war much … just last year, she was quoted as saying, “I’ve been so focused on state government, I haven’t really focused much on the war in Iraq.”

Palin wants to teach creationism in public schools. Creationism is not going to be taught from the Tanach; it will be from the New Testament — how can we allow that?

I hope that the Jews of Los Angeles will stand up against Palin so that she will not be able to continue on her path toward ruining our country.

Aimee Sax
Los Angeles

Charter School

As a retired Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) middle school teacher, I was elated to read about the New Los Angeles Charter School (New L.A.) that will be opening this month (“P.S. Tikkun Olam,” Aug. 29).

Given the poor academic performance and high dropout rate throughout much of the LAUSD, it is imperative that parents have meaningful options, such as New L.A., to assure that their children receive quality instruction in a safe and nurturing environment.

Unfortunately, both the LAUSD and United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) have misplaced priorities. LAUSD’s insular district office personnel are often insensitive to the real needs of on-site administrators, school faculties and students. Meanwhile, the teachers union (UTLA) spends much of its resources blocking sorely needed reform.

It was the union that stood in the way of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s plan to create 100 additional charter schools in Los Angeles. Little wonder that New L.A. received almost three times as many applications as it has openings.
Anything that can topple the status quo is welcome relief. On behalf of the children of Los Angeles, todah rabbah and yasher koach to Matt Albert and his crew for putting forth the effort and accepting the risk associated with starting the New Los Angeles Charter School.

Leonard M. Solomon
Los Angeles

Singles Comic Strip

Never Mind Amy the Date (“True Confessions of an Online Dating Addict,” Sept. 5). Amy’s comic strip should get dumped. Three words sum up that inert strip: worst comic ever.

Seriously, with all of the amazing Jewish comedic minds out there in Hollywood and beyond, can’t you find one real cartoonist to create something funny? Maybe you can poach a guy from HEEB.

Erin Stack
Beverly Hills

Ed. Note: We like it. Judge for yourself.

The D.I.S.C caption in the Sept. 5 issue (page 41) should have read "Dr. John T. Knight, Board Certified Orthopedic Surgeon, D.I.S.C. Spine and Sports Center," instead of "Dr. Robert S. Bray Jr., CEO and Founder, one of the country's preeminent neurological spinal surgeons."

Free speech on campus

That campus anti-Semitism thing, you say it’s your birthday

Quiet War at UCI

It is unfortunate that The Jewish Journal would choose to run as its cover story two weeks ago an article by Brad Greenberg that preys on the deep and recurrent fears of some in our community of a rampant anti-Semitism on our college campuses (“Quiet War on Campus,” Aug. 22).

There was nothing newsworthy about the article, no recent event or episode to prompt it. The episodes and anecdotes recounted in the story were months and, in most cases, years old — and have been amply rehashed in the Jewish press.

Indeed, the chief novelty that we discerned in Mr. Greenberg’s article was his willingness to report that “the amount of anti-Israel activity on campus is so negligible that it is almost impossible for students to find unless they are looking on all but maybe three campuses a year” —and this from the director of student programs at AIPAC [the American Israel Public Affairs Committee], an organization that is usually not deemed to be slack in defending Israel.

What is even more unfortunate were the letters last week in support of the article. They revealed precious little awareness of the state of affairs on college campuses, and even less of the nature of academic freedom. One letter suggested that we should be outraged because a certain UCLA professor did not submit to a request from an off-campus group to invite a “mainstream speaker” to offer a competing view to his on Zionism. We value the principle of academic freedom and regard it not only as the cornerstone of the American university, but as a key stimulus to intellectual creativity and innovation.

We may not agree with the views of all our colleagues on Israel or other subjects. But to begin to demand — and even legislate — the introduction of so-called balanced perspectives in the classroom is a step not to be taken lightly. Where does it start and where does it end? Should we have insisted that the course on the history of Israel taught at UCLA last year by a distinguished historian of Zionism should have included a speaker who advocated the dismantling of the State of Israel? Is that the kind of balance required? We think not and see the university as a free marketplace of ideas, where logic, quality of argumentation and fine scholarship win out over shoddy research and propaganda.

At the end of the day, we, as longstanding observers of and participants in college life today, concur with the AIPAC official that, thankfully, anti-Semitism is a negligible presence on our campuses today. To regurgitate episodes from four to six years ago is not only not news. It is a disservice to the legitimate fight against anti-Semitism, as well as to the important work of Hillel and other groups in nurturing a vibrant Jewish life on so many college campuses today.

Professor Aryeh Cohen
Rabbi Susan Laemmle
Professor David N. Myers
Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller
Professor Roger Waldinger

There was little explanation in your article as to why the conclusions of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) — dismissing the Zionist Organization of America’s (ZOA) civil rights complaint that anti-Semitic harassment at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) was not being adequately addressed by university officials — were wrong.

The major problem with OCR’s decision was that it denied Jewish students the protections of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VI protects against racial and ethnic harassment, but to OCR, Jewish Americans are a religious group, not an ethnic group, and thus fall outside the scope of the law.

Jews are an ethnic group, sharing an ancestry, a heritage, traditions, language, homeland and culture. Not protecting them from anti-Semitism on college campuses means that a national problem may go unaddressed, because colleges and universities need not answer for their conduct.

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, representing groups across the religious and political spectrums, complained about the decision in the ZOA’s case against UCI and urged OCR to reconsider it, saying that “[t]his decision will affect Jewish students not only at UCI, but also at other colleges and universities across the United States.”

In addition, three Republican U.S. Senators and six Democratic U.S. Representatives, including California Representatives Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) and Linda Sanchez (D-Cerritos), sent letters to the secretary of education, complaining about OCR’s decision. According to the Senators, OCR’s conclusion was “inconsistent with its prior policy statements.”

Similarly, the Congress Members emphasized that it “reversed OCR policy, as clarified in 2004, of protecting Jews against anti-Semitism.”

Fortunately, congressional efforts are underway to amend Title VI so that it is clear that Jewish students are protected and they can get their education in an environment that is tolerant and welcoming, rather than intimidating or threatening.

Morton A. Klein
National President
Susan B. Tuchman
Center for Law and Justice
Zionist Organization of America

Kaplan’s Birthday

There is a time and a place for everything. Marty Kaplan’s birthday article is inappropriate and does not belong in The Jewish Journal (“Happy Birthday to Me,” Aug. 22).

Paul Venze
Los Angeles

Joe Biden

I am happy to say that I spent many years in Delaware. My children and granddaughter still live there [and] I have worked on Senator Biden’s campaigns (“Rob Eshman’s Monday Journal,” Aug. 18).

Biden understands the issues of the Israel and her neighbors better than most Senators including our own California Senators.

Biden definitely makes a difference I am thrilled to be able to say that I worked on his campaign and that he would always answer my phone calls when I needed him.

I believe he is a great asset to the ticket.

Gila Katz
via e-mail

DeLet: The Solution

I was pleased to note that Rob Eshman identified DeLeT as a “solution” to the “shortage of top-quality teachers in Jewish day schools” and that he singled it out as a “model” of how “to streamline qualified professionals into the teaching profession” (“The Teacher,” Aug. 29).

This is precisely what the funders and founders hoped DeLeT would become when they designed the program seven years ago.

In the ensuing years, DeLeT — Day School Leadership through Teaching — a fellowship program of the Rhea Hirsch School of Education at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion with a parallel program at Brandeis University, has launched over 90 new Jewish day school teachers.

Today, DeLeT continues to take a novel approach to preparing teachers for day schools by helping novices learn the most powerful research-based approaches to teaching and learning while integrating Jewish and general studies.

Anyone interested in learning more about this novel approach to teacher preparation can check out the DeLeT website (www.huc.edu/delet) or e-mail Rivka Ben Daniel, DeLeT’s Education Director at rbendaniel@huc.edu.

Dr. Michael Zeldin
Rhea Hirsch School of Education
and DeLeT
Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion

The New Jewish Funeral

Your article takes me back several years when a friend lost her 4 1/2-year-old son (“Green is the New Black,” Aug 8).

Thank God I knew someone, Rob Karlin from Los Angeles Funeral Service, who was the most helpful and compassionate person in this time of sorrow. Through his knowledge and contacts, he arranged casket, service and flowers through several resources and by the time we were finished with the comparison of prices from the first quote, Mr. Karlin saved by friend over $3,500 … a major difference in my friends needs.

Several months after the funeral, my friend contributed a portion of her savings to the Tay-Sachs Disease Support Group in memory of her son.

Ursula Reeg
Los Angeles

Letters to the Editor


Campus Turmoil

This past edition’s cover story on UCI (“Campus Turmoil,” March 11) shook me to the point that three days after reading it, I can’t stop thinking about its repercussions. The article was written in such a way as if Marc Ballon was peeling an onion … almost living down at UC Irvine watching the events unfold (“Campus Turmoil,” March 11). The more I kept reading, the more upset I kept becoming that this type of anti-Semitism could happen in a place where Jews living in the “U.S. melting pot” were supposedly safe.

I was also upset because college was such an impressionable time for me, and I was wondering how many Jewish students on this campus will be affected by this “type of discrimination” and what the lifelong impact will be on their personal connection to Judaism.

Laura Cohen
Via e-mail

In response to your recent cover story “Turmoil on Campus,” I felt the need to express my view of the atmosphere at UC Irvine as a freshman living, working and studying on campus. I returned home for a day to spend some time with family and found myself being questioned by everyone regarding the so-called “turmoil” that I was experiencing. Everyone seemed to have a newly found negative view of my campus and some even worried about my safety as a Jew living there. This article gives off the incredibly false impression that anti-Semitism is a common occurrence around campus and that it is such a serious issue that it demands a cover article. I don’t get this impression, and neither do most people here.

All of my friends, many of whom are Jewish, are completely apathetic, most having no idea anything happened. I’m not denying that some anti-Semitism exists on campus, but rather I am disappointed at the media’s constant need to amplify the issues far beyond what they actually are thereby degrading UCI’s reputation in the Jewish community. If you want to come to UCI, this is an incredible university with a student body that overall is open and respectful. Don’t let these articles scare you away by saying otherwise.

Jacob Knobel

Two things occur to me about Marc Ballon’s article on anti-Semitism (cloaked, as always, as anti-Zionism) at UC Irvine. The first is that university administrators are as cowardly and inept in dealing with determined ideological thugs in 2005 as they were in dealing with Nazi students in the 1920s-1930s in Germany and with radical leftist students in 1968 at Columbia and other American universities. The second is a sense of amusement when Muslim/Arab ideologues excoriate Israel for “illegally occupying Palestinian land” as they strut around illegally occupied Indian land (i.e., America). The irony of the latter point might escape advocates of the “religion of peace,” given that Arab raiders conquered a vast empire and imposed their own religion (Islam) and – to a lesser degree – language (Arabic) on numerous peoples.

Chaim Sisman
Los Angeles

It is extremely bothersome for me as a Zionist, Jewish and liberal Democrat to see that the campus left has been hijacked by anti-Semites. This has been a phenomenon that has been going on for at least 20 years and I witnessed it firsthand as an undergraduate student at UC San Diego. It was there where I saw the following: 1) Pro-Palestinian and anti-Apartheid activists joining together to draw parallels between Israel and South Africa in a single joint presentation; 2) Imam Siddiqi (the same one from the article) giving a scathing denunciation of Israel as an illegal state while at the same time defending the ancient Muslim custom of subjecting Jews to dhimmi status; and 3) Edward Said receiving a visiting professorship in literature where he was given a regular podium to denounce Israel on campus property and money.

It is certainly no coincidence that where the left has become intolerant of dissent, anti-Semitic and increasingly outside of the mainstream, the primary reason is the embrace of the Arab “cause.”

Jeffrey Hoffer
Westlake Village

Heritage Via Bags

As an avid needleworker, I found your article “Knitters Spin a Yarn About Tallit Bags” most interesting (March 11). I feel that one of the ways I can pass my heritage on to the next generations is in the making of tallit bags, for our children, our grandchildren, our great nieces and great nephews. To this date I have made 18 and have plans for six more. I hope they will always be a treasure, made and received with love, which will recall one of the most important milestones in their lives. My daughters and I also derive great pleasure in doing the handwork on the tallisim, including the atarah and the four corners.

For those who are not aware, there is a national organization dedicated to Judaic needlework. Pomegranate Guild of Judaic Needlework’s main focus is in the inculcation and furthering of knowledge and understanding of our history through needlework. Chapters are located throughout the United States from Anchorage, Alaska to Atlanta, Georgia, and beyond, and are open to all who are interested.

Fran Shuster
Woodland Hills

Golden Rule

James Besser (“The Golden Rule of Jewish Leadership,” March 11) is from the “old” school. He makes it sound as if it is a bad thing that those who contribute the most set the direction. There is nothing wrong with a contributor giving to organizations with which s/he agrees; in fact, it actually makes sense. Working ones way up in the trenches is also not a bad thing, but should not be the only deciding factor in organizational leadership.

Paul Jeser
Los Angeles


In “A Small Piece of Jerusalem’s Past” (March 11) the photo is from the Scottish Rite Auditorium.

Irving vs. Lipstadt

I do not understand how a professor, such as Barry Steiner, can make such an absurd statement that “a man’s abominable political views are in themselves no evidence that his craft or profession is being used fraudulently or wrongly” (“Letters,” Mar. 11). The lawsuit that David Irving brought proved that Irving, who admits to be a Nazi sympathizer and Holocaust denier, could not be a good historian, since he had omitted in his later works any reference to the Holocaust and denied that it ever happened. Steiner’s assertion that because he found Irving’s earlier works did not show a thread of linkage to Nazi sympathies is specifically the reason that Deborah Lipstadt found him to be such a powerful force that had to be exposed because of his later denials re the Holocaust.

I could not find anywhere in Lipstadt’s work that she disagreed with Steiner’s final assertion that he refused to reject the earlier scholarly work because of Irving’s political sympathies. So why does he think that somehow he was raining on Lipstadt’s parade. I think that his letter makes him look rather foolish. It is inconceivable that Steiner read the book wherein the judge’s findings are set out.

“Judge Gray declared it ‘incontrovertible that Irving qualifies as a Holocaust denier.’ He had denied the existence of gas chambers at Auschwitz frequently and ‘in the most offensive terms,’ … Irving had ‘repeatedly crossed the divide between legitimate criticism and prejudiced vilification of the Jewish race and people.'”

I do not understand why Steiner would want to use any of Irving’s works. I would think that would devalue any writings that he does when he uses them.

I thought that Lewis Carroll was writing his letter.

Yale Harlow
Los Angeles

Strains of Democracy

Leonard Fein is one of those who do not value Israel as a Jewish state (“Israel Feeling Strains of Democracy,” March 11). He is more concerned that it be a democracy.

He needs to repeat Political science I. It was founded explicitly as a Jewish state, but, like the United States, as a republic, not a democracy; and with definite elements of theocracy.

The state owes citizenship and equality to all Jews. It owes nothing to Muslims, but, as a favor, grants them equal status (actually privileged status – no draft). They are owed nothing because they are foreigners who entered our country in the seventh century as invaders; and, after desolating it and largely abandoning it, re-entered it as infiltrators from the neighboring countries. They are settlers there, and guilty of terrible devastation, oppression and ethnic cleansing of our people, massacres and unspeakable atrocities.

No other nation, with far less provocation, has shown such forbearance after defeating colonialists. We certainly don’t owe them the “right” to subvert the Jewish character of the state.

I disclaim any desire to discomfort the Christian Arabs, who are as much targets of the Muslims as we are, and our natural allies.

Louis Richter

Ritual Slaughter

To PETA, I have this to say: While you were eating each other; while you were pitting man against beast in stadiums for your entertainment, Torah-observant Jews were stopping to help relieve the burden of a tired donkey, even when it belonged to an enemy (“PETA Renews Fight on Ritual Slaughter,” March 11). While you were out hunting for sport, Torah-observant Jews were trying to decide whether milk and eggs are kosher since they are taken from a live animal. While you hung antlers in your dining room, and wiped your feet on animal skin, Torah-observant Jews made sure to send away the mother bird before taking her eggs. While you were shooting animals in the head before sitting down to a feast, Jewish people would study countless laws, sharpen their knives to a razor and carefully perform a procedure designed to kill the animal without pain. Torah-observant Jews taught the world what it means to be kind to animals. And now, in this moment of remarkable arrogance, the student presumes to become the teacher?

To The Journal, for agreeing to run PETA’s ad, and to all of the Conservative rabbis that have joined in this farce, I have this to say: Shame on you. Shame on you that you so desperately seek the approval of your flamboyant, pseudo-humane friends in organizations like PETA. Shame on you, that you now seek to cast aspersions on practices that have the Torah’s approval, even if you lack the courage do defend them as your own.

And when Moshiach comes, and we are once more able to bring the daily sacrifices and burnt offerings, will you then, too, stand beside your PETA friends denouncing Torah observance? When PETA send its undercover investigators to a kaparot site on the day before Yom Kippur, will you stand beside them waiving your indignant little fists, and declare this age-old custom a violation of tza’ar ba’alei hayyim as well?

Torah was meant be a light unto the nations. Do not darken its light by inviting PETA’s warped perceptions of right and wrong into Torah-observant slaughterhouses.

Shlomo S. Sherman
Via e-mail