In response to last spring’s increased tensions between UC Irvine’s various Arab, Jewish and Muslim student organizations, the administration has increased its efforts to foster a climate of greater understanding between the groups. As a result, there has been increased dialogue among the student leaders of these groups.
This quarter, the administration sponsored a series of forums to increase awareness of the issues facing Arab, Jewish and Muslim students on campus. For many people directly involved in the conflict, however, real progress is expected to come from informal meetings, which will facilitate discussion between students throughout the year.
‘At this point, the most important thing we need to do is get a dialogue going between the groups,’ said Dean of Students Sally Peterson. ‘We have to bring the groups together. … Nothing positive is going to happen without dialogue. In order to have a dialogue … you have to start with a relationship built on trust and without that, I don’t see us going anywhere.’
Both Muslim and Jewish students claim to be making steady progress toward increasing their avenues of communication.
‘We’re very much at the beginning stages of everything,’ said Merav Ceren, president of Anteaters for Israel and a third-year biological sciences and international studies double major. ‘[The] Society of Arab Students did decide to drop their no-dialogue policy, so that’s a massive step.’
Learning to respect each other’s views is one of the main goals of the club leaders.
‘We did have a dialogue this year,’ said Nabil Attalla, vice president of the SAS and a fourth-year international studies major. ‘Basically, what [the dialogue] revolved around was respect.’
The recent influx of activities to reconcile differences is due in part to a concerted effort on the part of the administration and other concerned parties in response to increased conflicts in spring of 2004.
Differences that had been simmering between the Muslim and Jewish groups came to a boil last May when an anti-Zionist mural constructed by SAS was destroyed in an apparent arson attack. The mural was a representation of the wall built in the Gaza Strip to separate Palestinians from Israelis.
This event catalyzed the re-emergence of what had previously been intermittent episodes of conflict between Muslim and Jewish students on campus.
The destruction of the mural was treated as a hate crime. An outpouring of support in the ensuing days came from student groups that supported SAS’s right to free speech.
Though SAS never officially made a conjecture about who destroyed the mural, a verbal confrontation the afternoon before the mural was burned made AFI a suspect among some students.
‘Every single article that came out … pretty much assumed that AFI had something to do with it,’ Ceren said.
SAS emphatically denies ever accusing any person or group with burning the wall.
‘We absolutely don’t know who did it,’ Atalla said.
In late September, the UCI administration hosted the first of a planned series of meetings between leaders of Muslim and Jewish groups at the University Club, but the slow pace of these meetings tried some students’ patience.
‘Four Jewish students and four students from the Muslim Student Union got together, sat down and had dinner together,’ Ceren explained. ‘It was putting a name to the face and chit-chatting like nothing was wrong and it was very superficial. The administration knows that everyone wants to tackle the big issues. … From the students’ side, we definitely want that push to create change.’
While the administration plans to continue these ostensibly casual meetings, coordinating the schedules of prospective attendees has proven to be difficult.
‘There has been an attempt at dialogue between the MSU, Hillel
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