Jewish org’s help UCI deny pattern of anti-Semitism

Email correspondences obtained by Campus Reform suggest that the University of California, Irvine (UCI) is downplaying incidents of anti-Semitism on its campus in order to maintain its appeal to prospective Jewish students.

Last month, the AMCHA Initiative, along with 36 other Jewish and civil rights advocacy groups, sent an open letter to UCI chancellor Howard Gillman demanding an appropriate response to the school’s “long-standing and pervasive problem of anti-Semitic anti-Zionism that has incited hatred of Jews and acts of aggression and violence against Jewish and pro-Israel students.”

[RELATED: UCI Chancellor downplays school’s history of anti-Semitic incidents]

The letter came in response to an incident at UCI during which a group of Jewish students was effectively held hostage by a mob consisting of Muslim students organized by Students for Justice in Palestine, who confronted the Jewish students with chants of “Intifada, Intifada, long live the Intifada,” and even chased one girl into another part of the building, where she was forced to hide in a kitchen closet.

Gillman later issued a response to the AMCHA Initiative, a copy of which was obtained by Campus Reform, condemning the latest incident of anti-Semitism but refusing to acknowledge any sort of deep-seated or historical problem of Jew-hatred on his campus.

“I assure you that we are taking the May 18 incident very seriously,” he writes before saying he would like to “address [AMCHA’s] statement that there is a ‘long-standing and pervasive problem of anti-Semitic anti-Zionism’ on our campus.

“The people who know us best—virtually all members of our tremendous Jewish student body, the leaders of our local Hillel and Chabad chapters, and our community partners such as the Jewish Federation and Family Services of Orange County and the Rose Project would disagree with this characterization,” he continues.

Other individuals and organizations, however, believe that UCI and its “community partners” are whitewashing incidents of anti-Semitism in order to maintain an appearance of Jewish tolerance and avoid dissuading prospective Jewish students from attending.

UCI professor Gary Fouse, for example, has been documenting UCI’s relationship with organizations like the Rose Project and Hillel for several years, building a case that the “community partners” have their own self-interests at stake that are consistent with the university’s.

[RELATED: UCI prof: if Milo is offensive, so is ‘Anti-Zionism Week’]

“Hillel at UCI and the OC Jewish Federation, along with their money arm, the Rose Project, have a long history of being in bed with the university and downplaying any act of anti-Semitism at UCI, which has been documented on this site for years,” he wrote recently. “In my opinion, they have a conflict of interest in that if Jewish students decide not to attend UCI because of its perceived reputation for anti-Semitism then they have no reason for being involved on campus.”

In another instance, high school student Abby Kramer, a California native, wrote to Gillman about her concerns as a prospective Jewish student, asking him to address specific questions about anti-Semitism on campus.

In response, she received an email from Edgar Dormitorio, chief of staff for Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Thomas Parham, who stated that the university has in fact “been partnering with [Orange County Hillel and the Jewish Federation] to correct some of the misinformation that exists at UC Irvine and our desire to increase the critical mass of Jewish students on campus.”

Kramer explained to Campus Reform that all of her questions were ignored in the response, making her think the whole issue is being covered-up by the university.

“When I first read the letter, I was shocked. I felt like he was totally whitewashing the issue. He made it seem like UC Irvine does not care about what is going on on its campus. He denied it and didn't answer any of my questions,” she remarked. “It also made me upset because if I had emailed him about racism or if there was any problem with racism on a UC campus, it would be shut down right away. So why isn't anything being done about anti-Semitism? They are both forms of discrimination, after all.”

[RELATED: ‘Triggered’ UCI students demand senator resign over joke]

Kramer initially started her research into anti-Semitism at UCI as a class project, but the project took on more of an activist tilt after she was encouraged by the reactions of friends and family and decided to send a petition to the school demanding that it take a stance against anti-Semitism. The petition thus far has 123 signatures, needing 77 more to reach its goal of 200.

Executive director of Orange County Hillel, Lisa Armony, also alluded to reputational concerns, telling Campus Reform that some students are worried that negative media attention could discourage their Jewish peers from gravitating towards UCI.

“I think that students are concerned that this media attention is putting a spotlight on UCI that would discourage Jewish students from attending UCI,” she said. “They’re hopeful that this incident, though egregious…[that] that media attention will not discourage people from coming to UCI and people will take the time to understand what is happening on the ground.”

Campus Reform reached out to UCI to ask whether or not it is actively presenting a more favorable depiction of circumstances for Jewish students on campus, but this question was ignored. Instead, UCI reiterated its earlier claim that its “community partners” would “disagree with the characterization that there is ‘an alarmingly high rate of anti-Semitic acts’ on campus.’”

[RELATED: Anti-Semitic sentiments run rampant within UC system]

“Campus leaders and local Jewish organizations work very [sic] to provide an accurate picture of the safe and welcoming environment for Jewish students at UCI,” senior director of media relations Cathy Lawhon added.

[RELATED: REPORT: California accounts for 110 of 516 anti-Semitic incidents within past year]

Although UCI continues to insist that “local Jewish organizations” would agree with its characterization of UCI’s climate for Jewish students, dozens of national Jewish rights organizations condemned UCI’s response to anti-Semitism when they cosigned a letter with the AMCHA Initiative sent to Gillman.

“UCI Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) carried out a premeditated and violent disruption of an event hosted by Jewish and pro-Israel student groups,” the 36 Jewish advocacy groups wrote in their description of last month’s incident. “Jewish students report that UCI administrators have consistently turned a blind eye to acts of anti-Semitism that would have been promptly and vigorously condemned were they directed against any other racial, ethnic, or gender minority.”

Kramer told Campus Reform that she has elected not to apply to UCI when she graduates, saying the school’s response to her sincere inquiry has been “devastating.”

“This response was really devastating. I think that anti-Semitism is a very big issue and is something that needs to be dealt with,” she said. “The fact that the head of a school does not find this issue important is not okay. I definitely will not apply to UC Irvine. I do not want to go to a college where the staff does not care about the well-being of their students.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @AGockowski