iFest Met with Conflict

Last Thursday, UC Irvine police were called onto Ring Road to investigate an alleged battery that occurred during iFest.

Hosted yearly by Anteaters for Israel (AFI), this year’s four-day iFest coincided with Israel Independence Day. Comprising of a block of booths along the western portion Ring Road leading up to Anteater Plaza, iFest aimed to celebrate Israel and the founding of a democracy for freedom of religion and political rights. The event saw vocal protests as well as silent marches from pro-Palestinian students last Tuesday and Thursday.

“I think our slogan for this year’s festival, ‘Celebrating Israel, Creating Peace,’ truly embodies the goals of iFest — celebrating culture and actively pursuing peace,” Jackie Zelener, in an email to the New University, said.

Zelener, a third-year public health sciences major, said that a male student in the front of the protesters’ march grabbed her right forearm and pushed her. Although Zelener said that she is able to clearly identify the student that allegedly grabbed her, she declined to disclose his identity.

“I wanted to do my part to make sure our voice is heard and the country that I support is defended,” Daniel Narvy said.

As a third-year political science major, Narvy has studied the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in coursework. But as president of AFI, he has also disagreed with the perspectives presented in the classroom and wanted to address what he considers as misinformation regarding Israel.

“We want to bring Israel to UC Irvine. We want to talk about the culture, about relevant political events,” Narvy said. “I think the world should celebrate the existence of Israel.”

Zelener shared similar sentiments, seeing iFest as important to not only the Jewish community but to the entire UCI community.

“My hope is that this type of blatant hatred and discrimination stops immediately; students, regardless of their religion, gender, political affiliation, race, etc., have the right to feel safe at UCI,” Zelener said.

In regards to pursuing legal action or filing a student conduct case against her alleged assailant, Zelener declined to answer.
Hannan Seirafi, a fourth-year economics major and representative of Students for Justice in Palestine, said that the allegations of battery are false.

“We have seen similar tactics being used against pro-Palestinian activists at UCI and on other campuses,” Seirafi said.

According to Seirafi, pro-Palestinian students, which include non-Muslim students, are often called terrorists for participating in non-violent protests.

On both Tuesday and Thursday, approximately two dozen protesters lined up perpendicularly with the thoroughfare in Anteater Plaza, chanting as well as holding up posters for passers-by to see.

Following their stationary demonstrations, the protesters also marched through the section of Ring Road where iFest was taking place. Each time, the protesters made sure the chanting stopped and the march was silent.

“We’re consistently met with resistance in any events that we do have,” Seirafi said, referring to the alleged harassment from pro-Israel students during Muslim Student Union’s Anti-Zionism Week the week before.

According to Seirafi, attempts to silence pro-Palestinian groups have also resulted in the tearing down of posters and erasure of chalkings in Anteater Plaza.

When Philippe Assouline, an Israeli activist and writer, spoke in front of the flagpoles on Tuesday, pro-Palestinian chalk on the ground surrounding him had been erased.

“I’ve never seen a pro-Israeli guy put down a Palestinian student, uh- a Palestinian student’s posters,” Assouline said.

When asked what he would say to the person who allegedly took down the posters and erased the chalkings, Assouline maintained that speech is holy and for that person to not act like the opposition, whom he viewed as disruptive.

“Let people make up their minds on facts and exposure to different things,” Assouline said. “I would say put the poster back up. Invite debate.”

Although he was unable to give a statement until the police report was released, Student Affairs chief of staff Edgar Dormitorio said that students’ ability to protest on Ring Road is protected, especially in Anteater Plaza.

Immediately following the alleged incident, UCIPD assistant chief Jeff Hutchison was unable to comment on what happened until the official police report was completed.