About 200 students and other concerned community members gathered on the steps outside of the Administration Building on May 27 to demonstrate unity against hate crimes, centering on the destruction on May 21 of a cardboard wall constructed by the Society of Arab Students to dramatize heightened Israeli-Palestinian relations.
The crowd gathered under a yellow banner that read ‘Hate crimes and racism will not silence us!’ Many demonstrators wore armbands made from caution tape while others held signs with slogans such as ‘Obliterate the hate,’ ‘Hate is not the answer’ and ‘Say no to hate.’
Osama Abuljebain, president of SAS, was the first to speak against hate crimes on campus.
‘The Society of Arab Students is firm on working towards ending hate crimes against Arabs and Muslims and all other fellow Americans suffering from such crimes here on campus and in our community,’ Abuljebain said.
Manuel Gomez, vice chancellor of student affairs, spoke of his own outrage against the destruction of the wall, which he called ‘an act of intimidation against the principles of our entire community.’
Gomez also stressed the administration’s commitment to maintaining an atmosphere conducive to the free exchange of ideas.
‘When I receive pleas and letters to shut down student demonstrations on the campus, I continuously defend our community,’ Gomez said. ‘I believe that there is no better environment than a university in which we are having these kinds of conversations and discussions.’
Gomez advised that students should band together despite their differences when faced with such an attack on free expression.
‘It is during times like this that we all put aside our political differences to respect the liberties of free expression without intimidation,’ Gomez said. Speakers from other community organizations also expressed their support of campus free speech efforts.
Preston Wood, from Act Now to Stop War and End Racism Coalition said that the destruction of the wall was a manifestation of bigotry that must be sought out and destroyed wherever it exists in the world.
‘The violent destruction of the wall is just another demonstration of bigotry gone wild, and it needs to be responded to,’ Wood said.
Nader Abuljebain, representing the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, expressed gratitude to the administration for their investigation of the crime.
‘We appreciate the efforts that are being done by the UCI administration to investigate this crime and to denounce the arson attack as a hate crime because it sends a clear message to our students and community that the university cares about the safety and the welfare of its students,’ Abuljebain said.
Representatives of other student organizations including the Armenian Student Association, the Muslim Student Union, MEChA and ASUCI also pledged support for the SASs advocation of free political expression on campus.
Some students attended the rally because they had felt personally threatened by the crime that had been committed.
‘We’re out here to protest against hate,’ said Layla Shaikley, a first-year undecided/undeclared major. ‘As a member of the Muslim Student Union, part of the foundation of my religion is peace. As a member of the Society of Arab Students, there is no way that I am going to stand for being threatened because of my ethnicity.’
One campus group, however, felt unwelcome at the rally. According to Anteaters for Israel they were turned away by the SAS when they wished to show their support.
‘Last Monday, news cameras were on campus covering the burning of the wall and interviewing members of the Society of Arab Students,’ said Larry Mahler, President of Alpha Epsilon Pi and a member of Anteaters for Israel. ‘I approached some of the students and expressed my sympathy, because similar things had happened to our group in the past, like the defacing of our Holocaust memorial last year. I said that Anteaters for Israel would be more than happy to support them in the free speech rally that they had planned.’
Despite their will to support the organization, SAS declined their request.
Mahler said that the rejection of his group’s support, which he attributes to differences in political opinions between the two groups, was like ‘a slap in the face.’
‘Although we have disagreed politically with the Society of Arab Students, here is a time when we should support each other,’ Mahler said. ‘Free speech and opposition to the destruction of property is one thing that we should agree upon … A lot of other organizations were represented at the rally. It would have been nice to be a part of the rest of the community and not to be excluded.’
Vanessa Zuabi, vice president of the SAS responded by saying that they didn’t want AFI at the rally because they did not want to turn the rally into a political issue.
‘We didn’t want to make the rally political in any way shape or form. We didn’t want the issue of Palestine and Israel to overshadow what we were really there for which was to stand against hate. We didn’t want any other issue to overshadow it,’ Zuabi said.
According to Zuabi, the Model United Nations will be organizing dialogue between certain Arab and Israelis students in the next week.
‘You automatically create these boundaries when you come in as representatives of an organization. It’s better to come into the discussion as an individual,’ Zuabi said.