ZOA asks donors to avoid UC Irvine

Group slams college chancellor who did not condemn anti-Semitic speech.

Michael Oren Ariel Jerozolimski 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Michael Oren Ariel Jerozolimski 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
IRVINE, California — The Zionist Organization of America on Tuesdayasked potential students and donors to the University of California,Irvine to look elsewhere after months of growing tension between Jewishand Muslim students.
In a statement, the New York-based organization lambasted ChancellorMichael Drake for not condemning anti-Semitic speech on campus andenabling a years-long history of "bigotry, discrimination and theviolation of civil rights" by the school's Muslim Student Union.
"We're not asking the university to infringe on anyone's free speechrights, but our contention all along is that the chancellor has his ownfree speech rights, and for whatever reason, he's refusing to exercisethem," said Susan Tuchman, director of the ZOA's Center for Law andJustice. "He can come out and condemn the speech as hurtful andanti-Semitic."
Drake and the school had no comment on the statement, spokeswoman Cathy Lawhon said.
Hadeer Soliman, a spokeswoman for the Muslim Student Union, did not immediately return an e-mail seeking comment.
For years, tension has simmered between Jewish and Muslim studentgroups on the suburban campus southeast of Los Angeles. But emotionsreached a fever pitch earlier this month when 11 students were arrestedby campus police for repeatedly interrupting a talk by IsraeliAmbassador Michael Oren.
The Muslim Student Union had issued an e-mail condemning Oren's appearance but said it did not organize the protest.
Three of the arrested students were from the neighboring University ofCalifornia, Riverside campus, and it was unclear if the others wereMuslim Student Union members, Lawhon said.
In a Monday editorial in the campus newspaper, Soliman defended thearrested students' right to protest and called Oren the "officialrepresentative of a state that engages in war crimes and crimes againsthumanity."
"If the university chooses to selectively enforce its policies in orderto punish these students, it is undoubtedly sending a political messageand chilling all students' First Amendment rights," she wrote,referring to constitutional freedom of speech rights.
Tension around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has spilled onto campus at several other universities lately as well.
Pro-Palestinian students have disrupted speeches by prominent Israelispeakers at Oxford University, in England, at the University of Chicagoand at the University of California, Los Angeles.
A talk by a group called J Street, which backs a two-state solution tothe Israeli-Palestinian conflict, also stirred a backlash at theUniversity of Pennsylvania last month.
But the discourse between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel students at UC Irvine has been particularly vitriolic.
The Muslim Student Union drew attention in 2004 when more than twodozen students wore green stoles to their graduation. They said thestoles symbolized their faith, but others said the clothing representedallegiance to the militant group Hamas and was meant to intimidateJewish students.
In 2005, the Zionist Organization of America complained to federalcivil rights investigators about alleged anti-Semitic speeches byspeakers invited to campus and said the university was discriminatingagainst Jewish students by failing to take action.
The investigation concluded in 2007 that while some Muslim studentactivities could be offensive to Jewish students, the speeches andmarches were based on opposition to Israeli policies, not the nationalorigin of Jewish students.
ZOA has appealed that finding and another complaint is pending, said Tuchman, head of the ZOA's law center.
Last year, the ZOA also filed a complaint with the university that theMuslim Student Union was conducting fundraising for a group called VivaPalestina at a campus event and alleged that the money was supportingterrorist activities.
Lawhon, the school spokeswoman, said UC Irvine is still investigatingwhether MSU violated school policy by conducting fundraising on campusand has forwarded ZOA's concerns to the FBI.
Laura Eimiller, an FBI spokeswoman, did not return a call for comment.
The students arrested earlier this month face disciplinary action that could range from a warning to expulsion, Lawhon said.
The Orange County district attorney's office will decide whether topress criminal charges when it receives arrest reports from theuniversity police, said Susan Schroeder, district attorney spokeswoman.
The Muslim Public Affairs Council and the Council of American-Islamic Relations have both condemned the arrests.