A New York-based Jewish organization has called on the U.S. Department of Education to investigate claims of anti-Semitism at UC Irvine.
A civil rights complaint was filed by the Zionist Organization of America, one of the oldest and largest pro-Israel organizations in the United States.
According to Susan Tuchman, director of the Center for Law and Justice for the ZOA, the complaint was filed on behalf of Jewish students at UCI who told Tuchman that they were being harassed and mistreated by the administration.
This is the first complaint of anti-Semitism being investigated by the DOE Office for Civil Rights under Title VI, Section 2000d of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which protects people ‘against exclusion from participation in, denial of benefits of and discrimination under federally assisted programs on grounds of race, color or national origin.’
Tuchman defined UCI as ‘a hostile environment that makes one feel uncomfortable to be who they are,’ and claims that Jewish students are feeling ‘unsupported by the administration and hated by others.’
The complaint also criticizes allegedly hateful speech by anti-Zionist Muslims invited to campus by Muslim student groups.
‘When Jewish students are feeling marginalized, uncomfortable and feeling like they are being attacked … then that creates an environment that is uncomfortable and not conducive to learning,’ Tuchman said.
The ZOA received a notice from the OCR in October 2004 stating that the complaint had warranted an investigation.
Tuchman said that during the investigation, the OCR would gather information from current and former Jewish students who claimed that they were subject to harassment by Muslim students.
Tuchman also said that campus administrators will probably be interviewed as well.
According to Jim Bradshaw, an official in the DOE Public Affairs Office, the investigation will hopefully ‘be wrapped up within the next six months.’
Bradshaw did not comment on how the investigation will proceed.
‘We want the administration to exercise its own free speech rights and come out and denounce speech that is hateful and hurtful to Jewish students,’ Tuchman said.
After the complaint was filed, UCI requested mediated discussions with the ZOA. However, the dialogue sessions were called off by the ZOA after two meetings.
Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Manuel Gomez expressed ‘deep disappointment after progress was being made toward a greater understanding regarding free speech obligations and UCI’s actions.’
Gomez also said that if UCI issued a statement that it disapproves of certain speech or speakers, then it will ‘be forced to take a position with respect to each of the hundreds of speakers that come to campus each year,’ a violation of UCI’s obligation to remain neutral.
There have been more than 10 attempts to educate students about the Jewish-Muslim conflict and to facilitate dialogue between the two groups, according to Gomez.
Gomez encouraged students who feel that they are the targets of discrimination to utilize campus resources such as the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity, which investigates formal complaints of discrimination, the UCI Police Department, which responds to safety concerns and the Office of the Dean of Students.
The Anti-Defamation League, a worldwide organization dedicated to fighting bigotry and anti-Semitism, did not support the complaint.
Kevin O’Grady, associate director of the Orange County and Long Beach chapter of the ADL, said that Jewish students on campus are appreciative of the efforts made by Gomez to attend pro-Israel conferences such as ‘Making the Case for Israel,’ sponsored by Jewish organizations.
‘These appearances [by the administration] mean a lot to the Jewish community, O’Grady said. ‘They’re learning and they’re trying.’
O’Grady also expressed concern over the disruption of what he believes is an earnest attempt by UCI administrators to improve relations.'[UCI] can’t do anything to stop free speech’ O’Grady said. ‘They had their hands tied.’