Anti-Israel events at U.C. Davis follow Hillel attack

Only two weeks after being struck by unknown vandals, Davis Hillel has faced yet another blow to rapprochement.

The U.C. Davis Students for Justice in Palestine finished a week of anti-Israel events on campus today, calling for an end to "Israeli apartheid" and urging the university to join a national effort to divest all funds from Israel.

The timing couldn't have been worse, according to Hillel's executive director, Hillel Damron, who said the events marred the Jewish group's efforts to initiate peace with Palestinian students on the U.C. Davis campus.

"We held a peace rally two days after we were attacked, and we asked the Palestinian students to participate; some even joined us," said Damron. "Unfortunately, they're being led and probably controlled by more militant elements who are preventing any open dialogue."

The week of events included a presentation on the U.C. Davis quad in which cardboard tombstones, meant to represent those killed by Israeli gunfire, were scattered on a lawn near a Palestinian flag. There was also a lecture described as an outline of "the 53 years of apartheid that Palestinians have endured" and a workshop on divesting funds from Israel.

Although daily programs were presented by the Students for Justice, the week of events was sponsored by several organizations, including the Muslim Student Association, the Arab Youth Association, 100 Black Scholars and the Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

During some of the events, members from Jewish student groups on campus sat at a nearby table, "to show our presence and educate students about our view point," said Damron. "We offered them peace, but now they're placing blame," he added, saying that the events amount to a verbal war.

Tensions between the two groups first flared-up when someone smashed the Davis Hillel's front window and set fire to an Israeli flag hanging from the building's front eaves during the early morning on May 9.

Although the Davis Police Department has yet to name any suspects, Damron said he had received a warning on the day before the attack that "some Palestinian students, not from any particular group," might cause property damage to the Hillel. He said he warned both campus and city police, "but they did not respond and no action was taken" until it was too late.

The day after the attack, the Sacramento Bee quoted Raphael Moor, Hillel board president, who made a similar statement regarding the earlier warning.

Moore later told the Bulletin that "certain specifically named people" were overheard talking about attacking the Hillel House by an unnamed Jewish organization and that he turned in a list of their names to the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Those claims caused outrage within the Palestinian community.

In an e-mail circulated soon after by the Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the group's vice president, Elias Rashmawi called the Hillel and the Anti-Defamation League "racist and bigoted," and "politically motivated" in its charges "that our community has conspired (in multiple cities) to attack their building in Davis."

Furthermore, he claimed the Jewish groups "have marshaled to their support major newspapers including the Sacramento Bee," and referred to the Bee's coverage of the arson as "vicious attacks on us," charging a conspiracy.

He wrote: "We are documenting serious cases of manipulation and intimidation committed by [Zionist] groups against our students, communities and supporters," and asked e-mail recipients to forward material on this issue to the Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

Damron, however, admitted that he "is no wiser today than I was then" about who actually committed the attack. He said he and Moore were merely repeating what they had heard in an effort to help the investigation.

He also said he was outraged by the e-mail.

"I said, 'Let's start the healing process' and tried to extend a hand," said Damron. "Then to hear they're getting the students organized is just incredible."

Rashmawi did not return phone calls as of press time.

In addition to the initial peace rally, the Hillel co-sponsored a community gathering with Congregation Beth Haverim on May 15, called "Voices Against Violence: Prayers of Hope, Healing and Peace." The gathering, which featured area rabbis, clergy, U.C. Davis administrators and politicians speaking out against hate, attracted a crowd of close to 300 of various ethnic backgrounds.

Noting a documented increase in the amount of anti-Semitic incidents on Northern California campuses since the reprise of the intifada in September, Jonathan Bernstein, executive director of the ADL's Central Pacific region, said the gathering was particularly significant.

"It's important for the Jewish students of Davis to know they're not alone and don't need to hide their identity," said Bernstein. "That's what the perpetrator of a hate crime wants: to make you feel isolated, vulnerable and unprotected by the law so you'll crawl in a corner."

He said "Voices Against Violence" was a clear indication that this would not be the case.