In July, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights issued a report on campus anti-Semitism at several universities, including allegations that UC Irvine has been home to various anti-Semitic incidents that were not dealt with appropriately by campus officials.
USCCR is a ‘fact-finding’ group that ‘lacks enforcement powers,’ according to their Web site.
The report was based on the testimony of representatives of three Jewish groups, including Susan B. Tuchman, the director for the Center for Law and Justice at the Zionist Organization of America, whose report to the commission focused almost exclusively on UCI.
‘Since at least 2002, if not earlier, Jewish students have faced a pattern of anti-Semitism on the UCI campus that, in 2003 and 2004, escalated into destruction of property, physical threats and violence,’ Tuchman said in her statement to the commission.
After unilaterally terminating earlier attempts at mediation with the school, Tuchman is currently representing an unknown number of Jewish UCI students in a complaint to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights ‘contending that [UCI] had long been aware of a hostile and intimidating environment for Jewish students, but that [it] had not taken adequate steps to address the problems.’
UCI is not able to comment on the OCR investigation, which is ongoing, but Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Manuel Gomez responded to the allegations made in the USCCR report.
‘[The report] does not correctly characterize UCI or our students,’ Gomez said. ‘We are a close, safe and inclusive campus. The typical UCI student is respectfully tolerant, intellectually curious and personally compassionate.’
Gomez also pointed to ‘numerous programs, speakers and events that model civil and respectful dialogue’ that the school has hosted as well as the development of ‘three new courses designed to educate students about contemporary issues regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and promoting religious tolerance and peace building.’
Among the incidents of anti-Semitism alleged in Tuchman’s report are the 2002 publication of an article in a UCI student publication that ‘repeatedly emphasized the Nazi-like notion that Jews are genetically different and separate from non-Jews,’ the 2003 destruction of a Holocaust memorial, the carving of a swastika into a table during a Holocaust candlelight vigil and ‘repeated’ invitations for anti-Semitic speakers to speak at UCI.
Diane Fields Geocaris, legal counsel for UCI, responded to Tuchman’s allegations in a letter to the commission, saying that UCI ‘appropriately treated vandalism.’ Geocaris also said that UCI officials were the ones who reported the Holocaust memorial disturbance to the police and that in the swastika-carving incident, ‘the university investigated … but was unable to find any witnesses or suspects.’
As for allegations of inviting anti-Semites to speak, Gomez said, ‘Some individuals want us to place limits on freedom of expression. The university is legally obligated to protect speech on a content neutral basis. Inevitably the university must allow some speech that some may find offensive.
‘UCI does not sponsor events encouraging intolerance. Indeed, while student and other groups may use our campus to espouse ideas that at times may be offensive, when they do so they are exercising their right to free speech.’
Tuchman also cited a January 2004 incident in which a Jewish student reported a rock being thrown at him by a member of the Muslim Student Union. According to Geocaris, ‘the aggrieved student did not report the incident until … several weeks after it took place’ and ‘could not identify the names of Muslim Student Union members at the table [from which the rock was thrown].’
Another Jewish student, according to Tuchman, overheard two students saying ‘slaughter the Jews’ in Arabic in February 2004, and the following month was ‘subjected to threatening language and hurtful ethnic slurs, including being called a ‘dirty Jew.” This student left UCI to study elsewhere, according to Tuchman, because he ‘felt [UCI] was a hostile environment for Jewish students.’
According to Geocaris, campus police contacted a student who UCI officials believe is the same one refered to by Tuchman, but he ‘failed to respond to these inquiries and did not show up for an appointment with the campus police.’
Additionally, the university does not have a record of this student requesting for his transcript to be forwarded, according to Geocaris, ‘suggesting that Ms. Tuchman’s testimony concerning his transfer might be inaccurate.’
Gomez responded to allegations of violent acts on campus in general.
‘Physical threats and violence are not tolerated at UCI,’ Gomez said. ‘If and when a threat is brought to our attention, we investigate and respond to it appropriately and as fully as possible.’
The complete USCCR report can be viewed online at http://www.usccr.gov/pubs/081506campusantibrief.pdf.
To see what steps UCI is taking to encourage respectful dialogue, visit http://www.vcsa.uci.edu/FreeSpeech/WhatWeAreDoing/index.php.