Thursday, September 28, 2006

Irvine World News: Chancellor works to ease tensions

Chancellor works to ease tensions
UCI’s Drake working to lessen hostilities between Muslim, Jewish students
September 14, 2006

After years of debate between Jewish and Muslim students on the UC Irvine campus, the student groups and university officials hope to start the school year by peaceably talking about differences.

From the showing of a representation of the Prophet Mohammed on campus, to false rumors of Muslim students wearing Hamas armbands to graduation commencement, to speeches deemed hateful toward Jews, campus events throughout the years have made for heated debate among Jewish and Muslim student organizations.

Most recently, the Muslim Student Union sponsored a week of events in May titled “Holocaust in the Holy Land,” which featured speakers that Jewish students on campus deemed as anti-Semitic.

Jewish students said the speeches justified suicide bombings, cheered Hamas and Hezbollah and called for an end to the Jewish state. The Jewish community was outraged, said Jeffrey Rips, executive director of Hillel of Orange County, a Jewish campus organization.

“There was a lot of hatred,” he said.

Chancellor Michael V. Drake and administrators received complaints of hate speech against the union. The university ultimately said it was a freedom of speech issue – speech that could not be suppressed.

The university has since taken a more proactive approach to the situation, said Manuel Gomez, vice chancellor of student affairs.

Gomez and Drake have recently released statements addressing free speech and highlighting the importance of peaceful conversation. Drake said: “This
winter and spring there have been incidents testing the bounds of the First
Amendment at many campuses across the country, including ours … Make no mistake: I find hate speech abhorrent.”

The university plans on sponsoring cultural events to help spark peaceful dialogue to address the issues.

In December 2005, the uni- versity was one of 27 in the nation that received $100,000 in grants for projects to address intolerance and help create dialogue about contentious political and cultural issues, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The projects include courses, seminars and events that facilitate dialogue.

About two weeks ago, Drake met with Orange County Jewish leaders and students to discuss the conflicts at UC Irvine and on campuses throughout California, said Jewish Federation President Jodie Greenbaum. His approach to resolving the challenges on campus have been beneficial, she said.

“He took the chance to talk with each person,” she said. “We came out feeling very optimistic. We feel (the university is) stepping forward.”

He has also met with Muslims on a regular basis. Drake and the university have developed a good relationship with the union, and Drake understands them, Bangee said.

“He probably doesn’t agree with our political views,” she said. “He agrees with our right to say them.”

Drake was not available for comment, but Gomez said the chancellor and the university have emphasized that students should follow a set of values that include respect, appreciation and empathy.

“He has been very, very involved in trying to resolve the concerns,” Gomez said. “I think (students) have been responsive to that.”

Bangee said she is hopeful that the groups will be able to build some bridges. The Muslim union is open to work with the Jewish groups to hold events and start friendly dialogue, she said. Gomez said he hopes the new school year, which begins Monday, will bring forward an understanding on all sides.

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