Zionist groups complaint against U.C. Irvine spurs investigation

los angeles | The U.S. Office of Civil Rights has opened an investigation into charges that officials at U.C. Irvine have been turning a blind eye to intimidation and harassment of Jewish students for the last four years.

In an 11-page complaint, the Zionist Organization of America listed incident after incident in which, it alleges, Muslim and Arab student groups and extremist Muslim religious speakers vilified Jews and incited against “Zionists” and Israel.

The university is not the first to be hit with allegations of anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist harassment.

Jewish students wearing T-shirts bearing a Star of David or pro-Israel slogans have been insulted and threatened with violence, said Susan Tuchman, director of the ZOA’s Center for Law and Justice in New York, who drew up the complaint.

In the latest incident, in early February, Muslim cleric Amir-Abdel Malik-Ali spoke before a campus audience for an hour about “the apartheid state of Israel” and its “Nazi behavior,” as well as “American imperialism” and the “Zionist-controlled media.”

The federal investigation is being conducted in San Francisco by the Office of Civil Rights, which is part of the U.S. Department of Education. Spokeswomen in San Francisco and Washington said they could not comment on an ongoing probe.

The ZOA filed the complaint under a section of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, religion or national origin. If found in violation of the act, the university could be deprived of all federal grants.

In their defense, university administrators cited the First Amendment rights of free speech and assembly for Muslim and all other students and said they preferred to settle grievances through mediation and campus forums.

“Your views are going to be challenged at any great university,” said Manuel Gomez, vice chancellor for student affairs.

But even granting these arguments, Tuchman noted that officials had a duty both to protect Jewish students and to condemn hate speech and incitement on campus.

In interviews, some Jewish professionals described the ZOA complaint as a misguided effort by outsiders and emphasized recent improvements in the campus atmosphere.

Joyce Greenspan, director of the Anti-Defamation League office in Orange County, said the situation is best assessed by those who are in daily contact with students and faculty. “It is disconcerting when an outside group comes in with all guns blazing. Changes occur not through lawsuits but by education on campus and by working toward better communications.”

She added, however, that there is a widespread perception that “Jewish students don’t receive the same attention from the administration as Muslim students.”

Greenspan cited an instance in which university officials remained silent when a Holocaust exhibit put up by Jewish students was vandalized, but spoke out vehemently against the burning of a Muslim cardboard replica of Israel’s security fence.

Marc Ballon of the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles contributed to this report.

Tom Tugend

JTA Los Angeles correspondent