A Jewish group announced this week that it will investigate alleged anti-Semitic incidents at UC Irvine, a campus with a history of tension between Muslim and Jewish students.
The Hillel Foundation of Orange County said the investigation will attempt to document “an alarming increase in anti-Semitism” at the school, an official with the group said. Hillel is an international group of Jewish college and university students with more than 500 chapters.
Jeffrey Epps, the foundation’s executive director, blamed the Muslim Student Union for most of the alleged incidents. He said Hillel decided to form the all-Jewish task force after Muslim students disrupted a Jan. 31 lecture by Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes, a staunch defender of Israel.
The probe “will not be a witch hunt,” Epps said. “We will release an objective report that will include findings and recommendations to the community and UCI.” He said the report was expected to be completed by the end of the year. It is the second investigation in two years of alleged anti-Semitism at the campus. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights began a probe in 2005, after the New York-based Zionist Organization of America filed a complaint alleging that UCI presented a “hateful, hostile and threatening” atmosphere to Jewish students. The federal investigation is ongoing.
Muslim Student Union spokeswoman Marya Bangee said the latest investigation “is an intimidation tactic to try to stop us from exercising our right to criticize Israel.”
“Whenever we criticize the government of Israel, they say we’re anti-Semitic and attacking their religion,” Bangee said. “We’re not against Jews. We’re against the discrimination against Muslims in Israel.”
The Hillel panel includes rabbis, lawyers, physicians and at least one UCI faculty member, economist Amihai Glazer. It will interview Jewish and non-Jewish students as well as alumni, faculty and community members, Epps said.
In recent years, Muslim and Jewish groups at UCI have angered each other with exhibits and speakers whose rhetoric feeds the emotions over the issue of Palestinian statehood.
In 2003, a Holocaust memorial was vandalized, and the next year an anti-Zionism exhibit was burned down.
Last year, Jewish leaders and students were outraged by an educational program sponsored by the Muslim Student Union titled “Holocaust in the Holy Land” and “Israel: The Fourth Reich.”
Epps accused Muslims of using freedom of speech to foment bigotry and intolerance.
“Jewish students have raised concerns about the hostile environment at UCI. They are legitimately afraid for their safety,” Epps said.
He said he would make two or three Jewish students available for interviews, but none returned a reporter’s calls.
Bangee said no member of her student group had threatened Jews, and she questioned Hillel’s commitment to tolerance.
“We’ve tried to have an objective dialogue with them,” Bangee said. “They call for tolerance, but I find it interesting that they would invite someone like Pipes, who’s not considered a mainstream voice, to speak,” Bangee said.
Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum think tank, is a distinguished visiting professor at Pepperdine University whose views are considered anti-Islamic by some Muslims.
But Muslim students have also sponsored speakers with controversial views, including DePaul University professor Norman Finkelstein, a Jew and critic of Israel and Jewish organizations that he says exploit the Holocaust. His book, “The Holocaust Industry,” questions the historical consequence of the Holocaust, in which about 6 million Jews were killed.
UCI officials were not asked to participate in the Hillel investigation. Each side has complained to campus administrators about the other’s conduct and intolerance.
UCI spokesman Jim Cohen said the university is “committed to the principles of free speech, as well as addressing the issues raised in how free speech is exercised.”