Jewish-Muslim Tensions Examined

On Feb. 16, UC Irvine students Ramy Ballout, president of the Society of Arab Students, and Merav Ceren, president of Anteaters for Israel, appeared as guests on the KOCE program ‘Inside OC With Rick Reiff’ in a 15-minute segment titled ‘Can Peace Come to UCI?’
Taped on Feb. 11, the segment’s aim was ‘to shed some light on the campus conflict’ regarding ‘the Middle East issue,’ according to host Reiff.
‘[Reiff] said he wanted us to talk about the campus and possibly the Middle East as a whole,’ said Ceren, a third-year international studies major. ‘I know he wanted us to talk about what was happening on campus between SAS and AFI.’
Reiff began his discussion with Ballout and Ceren by remarking, ‘The Palestinians and Israelis have gone back to the peace table recently. Can partisans at [UCI] do the same?’
He then proceeded to direct Ballout and Ceren with questions that both felt were intended to start an argument between them.
‘I think he was expecting a bit of a ruckus,’ said Ballout, a fourth-year international studies major. ‘Even the title of the show [‘Can Peace Come to UCI?’] was an instigating factor to cause problems between Arab and Jewish groups. It makes it sound like [UCI is] a war zone.’
Ceren agrees that Reiff’s questions seemed aimed at a confrontation.
‘To be completely honest, the guy seemed like he was trying to pick a fight between [Ballout] and me,’ she said. ‘I called [Ballout] … and we decided that we were just going to be very basic [and talk about] what’s happening on campus, that in the Middle East peace is the main goal, and that was going to be the end of it.’
Among the topics discussed in the program was the decision of some Muslim students to wear green shawls, which some people believed promoted Hamas, during last year’s graduation ceremonies.
Ceren said on the program ‘When the [shawls] came out, I think that the national media … brought it up to a point that it didn’t need to be at.’
Later in the show, Ceren explained that during the controversy over the shawls, the UCI administration had asked Jewish and pro-Israel student leaders to issue a statement saying that the students had a right to wear the green shawls.
‘We didn’t have a problem with that,’ Ceren said. ‘We had a problem with the fact that [the administration] wanted us to support green shawls that have the same insignia that Hamas uses. If that’s not what [the students] mean, that’s not what they mean. But, ‘Why don’t they say so?’ was our question.’
According to Ceren, the controversy over the green shawls highlighted a failing on the administration’s part to facilitate discussion between groups
‘Nothing was really followed up,’ Ceren said. ‘As long as there wasn’t attention from the outside community, the administration didn’t seem willing to reform from within.’
A more recent issue that Reiff brought up was Bus 19, which was displayed on the UCI campus on Jan. 31 under the sponsorship of several student groups, among them AFI.
Though the event was not discussed in-depth during the program, Ballout commented afterwards that he felt the bus presented only a ‘one-sided’ view of terrorism and that some on-campus student organizations, including Jewish organizations, tend to ‘play on people’s emotions.’
‘I would call that bus a tragedy of occupation more than actually terrorism, though they go hand-in-hand,’ Ballout said.
Another issue that Reiff discussed briefly on the program was SAS’s apartheid wall, which was found burned on campus last year.
‘Vandalism of student displays is unfortunately pretty prevalent on the UCI campus,’ Ceren said on the program. ‘Leaving things out on the UCI campus tends to be a [security problem].’
Ballout, however, said afterward, ‘If you want to talk about being unsafe, talk about the torching of the wall last year. And still, [SAS] wouldn’t come out and say that Arabs are feeling unsafe on this campus.’
But despite their disagreements, both Ballout and Ceren agree that their respective organizations have developed mutual respect for each other.
‘We have completely different views but that doesn’t mean we have to be enemies,’ Ballout said.
Ceren added, ‘This is a time of healing … of becoming two organizations that can live on campus peaceably. SAS and AFI are on a good path.’
Both also agree that their appearance on ‘Inside OC’ was not as beneficial as it could have been.
‘I don’t think the right questions were asked. I don’t think it was an honest show,’ Ballout said. ‘I’m happy it happened, and I think it should happen more, and I think that student groups should be hosting other events like this. But not like ‘Inside OC,’ with the makeup. That’s candy-coating.’