Article Asks: Is UCI Safe for Jews?

Lisa Armony has an exhaustive piece in the April 13 Jewish Journal whose title tells it all: "Is UC Irvine Safe for Jews?"

Her conclusion? Yes and no.

UCI has made international headlines in recent years, dubbed by observers an unwelcome environment for Jewish students at best, a hotbed of anti-Jewish hate at worst. Years of heated protests and demonstrations demonizing Israel, organized by the school's Muslim Student Union (MSU) . . . have earned the school its reputation as a center for anti-Zionism. And general tolerance for the unrest by the school's administration has prompted charges of allowing anti-Semitism to run amok.

But, later . . .

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Yet not all Jewish students agree on how bad the problem really is. Over the years, some students have written letters expressing deep concern about anti-Semitism, while others have praised the campus as a warm and hospitable place.

Fifth-year student Isaac Yerushalmi tells Armony the UCI campus is "a great place for Jews."

"I've never felt any sort of physical threat myself," Yerushalmi, a former president of Anteaters for Israel (AFI) reportedly says. "There's just that handful of students, 40 to 100, that make all this noise. That's what the media is focused on."

"I actually enjoy the tension," Guy Gutterman, a fourth-year student from Israel, says in the piece. "I like the idea that people are passionate about things that matter to them and that matter to me."

He added that his best friend is a Palestinian student, but they have chosen not to discuss the conflict that divides people in their homeland.

"I actually feel more Jewish here than I did at Brandeis," says transfer student Lauren Gindi, who came from the Boston university's predominantly Jewish campus in 2009 to be closer to home. "I feel there's a bigger desire for me to have my Jewish identity, more of a reason for me to identify myself as Jewish and pro-Israel. I understand what I'm representing."

Others reinforce notions that Jewish students are targets at UCI.

"I found myself trying to justify why Israel has a right to exist," Moran Cohen, AFI's current president, tells Armony. ". . . We're here at the university to learn and teach each other. You don't need to justify why we have a right to live."

Reut Cohen, a 2007 graduate who has blogged extensively about Muslim-Jewish relations at UCI and is one of the administration's harshest critics, says she was shunned, spat on and assaulted by a Muslim Student Union (MSU) student just for being Israeli.

Campus officials did nothing when Cohen filed complaints, she claims.

"It was a really intense experience and I took it personally," Sabrina Matzon, who graduated last year, tells Armony. "I did feel threatened because I was outnumbered. I stopped wearing my Jewish star to school. They posted signs all over campus stating 'facts,' putting down Israel and Jews. Posters of covered-up Muslim women saying, 'God bless Hitler'—I can't believe the campus would allow that to take place."

The way the administration deals with threats against Jews was criticized by students on both sides of the safety dance.

"It's always been a dilemma for me: What should we expect from the administration?" Yerushalmi says in the piece. "I think they're concerned by the situation, but there are a lot of legal complexities over what they can and can't do. I'm not sure if they're allowed to comment on certain speakers. I think the administration has good intentions and tries to give us support where they can."

"We have to make this campus a great place for Jewish students to be," says Jordan Fruchtman, executive director of the Jewish student group Hillel Foundation of Orange County. "If we use more resources to fight the MSU than to build Jewish life, then we're failing."


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