Skip to content
Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

Anti-Zionism/Anti-Semitism at the University of California-Irvine

Filed under: Anti-Semitism
Publication: Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism

From Manfred Gerstenfeld ( ed.) Academics against Israel and the Jews

The University of California-Irvine

The University of California-Irvine (UCI) – founded in 1965 – with twenty-four thousand students, is one of the ten universities of the University of California. UC-Irvine prides itself on being a major research university, with three of its faculty having won Nobel Prizes. The campus is noteworthy for its very high proportion of Muslim students, approximately two thousand making up about 8 percent of the student population, compared to about one thousand Jewish students. The percentage of Muslim students represents more than eight times the proportion of Muslims in the United States,[1] whereas the percentage of Jewish students is closer to the proportion of Jews in the country.


Anti-Israeli/Anti-Zionist/Anti-Semitic Events at UCI

From 2001 to the present, the Muslim Student Union (MSU), and sometimes the Society of Arab Students (SAS), have sponsored virulently anti-Zionist/anti-Semitic events on campus. The speakers used classic anti-Semitic themes, and demonized Israel and Jews with Nazi comparisons. Some Jewish students were harassed and intimidated. When they asked for help from the administration, it was not given.[2]

In February 2001, and again on 26 May 2004, MSU and SAS brought to UCI Muhammad al-Asi, imam of the Islamic Center of Washington, DC, who proclaimed that American Jews are all-powerful and cannot live with others. “The Zionist-Israeli lobby…is taking the United States government and the United States people to the abyss. We have a psychosis in the Jewish community that is unable to coexist equally and brotherly with other human beings.”[3] During “Zionist Awareness Week,” beginning on 14 May 2002, and again in 2003, students had to walk through mock body bags emblazoned with the names of victims of “Israeli genocide,” placed on the campus by Muslim students and their supporters.[4]

On 26 February 2004 and again during the week of 17 May 2004, Amir Abdel Malik Ali gave lectures at UCI. He is an imam from Oakland whom the MSU invited for its “Anti-Oppression Week” and again for its “Tragedy in the Holy Land Week.” Malik Ali made his speeches from a lectern carrying the UCI emblem.

In one talk, “America under Siege: The Zionist Hidden Agenda,” he reiterated the classic anti-Semitic canards that Jews control the media and cause international conflict to serve their own ends. He claimed that Zionists had “Congress, the media and the FBI in their back pocket,” and that   “Israelis knew about and were in control of 9-11”. Malik Ali also said that 9-11 “was staged to give an excuse to wage war against Muslims around the world”. He asserted that “the bad Jews were going to assassinate President Gore to allow Vice President Lieberman to assume the Presidency” and “we all know that the Mossad [Israeli security service] destroyed the Twin Towers.”[5]

As part of “Tragedy in the Holy Land Week/Zionist Awareness Week” in May 2004, students were forced to cross mock checkpoints. At one of them, a student dressed as a pregnant Palestinian woman was beaten by another student dressed as an Israeli soldier. Muslim students and their supporters carried signs equating the Star of David with the swastika. SAS erected a wall made of cardboard boxes, representing the Israeli security fence, labeled the “Apartheid Wall.”[6]

Also in May 2004, Muslim students announced their intention to attend graduation ceremonies wearing green scarfs bearing the shahada (Muslim creed). Jewish student and community organizations protested, since shahada can be translated as martyrdom and is used by Hamas and other terrorist organizations in glorifying suicide bombers. The Muslim students claimed their religious rights and said the shahada signified only the statement, “There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet.”[7]

On 10 June 2004, MSU and SAS again brought Amir Abdel Malik Ali to speak about “Zionism: America’s Disease.” He said that Zionism combines “chosen peopleness with white supremacy” and that Zionists have “Congress, the media, and the FBI in their back pocket.”[8] He was again invited for 2 February 2005, this time slightly changing his phrasing to say “Zionism is a fusion of the concept of white supremacy and the chosen people” in a speech titled “Desperation of the Zionist Lobby.”[9] On 25 January 2006, Malik Ali again compared Zionists to Nazis and said “Hamas, them’s my boys,” tapping his heart with his fist.[10]

 “Zionist Awareness Week” in June 2005, now relabeled “Israel Awareness Week,” again demonized Israel and Judaism and hosted lectures titled “The World without Israel” and “Zionism Infects Judaism.”

For 15-18 May 2006, the MSU anti-Semitic theme was “Holocaust in the Holy Land.”[11] A mock twenty-five-foot-long “Israel apartheid wall” stood in the central plaza of the campus, and speeches included “Israel the Fourth Reich” by Amir Abdel Malik Ali and “Hamas: The People’s Choice” by Imam Mohammed al-Asi. The keynote speaker was Norman Finkelstein, then of DePaul University, well-known for his inflammatory writings about the Holocaust.[12]


Response of the UC Administration

Jewish student and community organizations repeatedly requested that the administration exercise its free speech by publicly condemning anti-Semitic hate speech at UC-Irvine.[13] The administration until the present has refused, and at times sanctioned intolerance toward Jews.[14] The vice-chancellor of student affairs, Manuel Gomez, said he does not denounce “controversial speech” on campus “because he would have to spend an inordinate amount of time doing so if he responded to every real or perceived slight.”[15]

In 2002, Visiting Prof. James P. Sterba of the University of Notre Dame spent his allotted time as a panelist, at a forum attended by Chancellor Ralph Cicerone and Vice-Chancellor Gomez, justifying suicide bombings against civilians. Neither Cicerone nor Gomez distanced himself from such a view either then or later.[16] When Chancellor Robert Berdahl of UC-Berkeley, together with some three hundred university leaders, signed a letter published in the New York Times on 7 October 2002 warning against extreme anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish activity on campus,[17] Chancellor Cicerone refused to sign. As noted, at a Malik Ali event demonizing Jews, the administration, even after being warned in advance, allowed the UCI emblem to be displayed on the podium. In contrast, the administration removed the emblem when the Danish- cartoon controversy was discussed.[18]

Chancellor Cicerone used the UCI website to publicly condemn the destruction by arson of the SAS representation of the Israeli security fence in May 2004. The university, however, issued no public statement on the UCI official website after a Holocaust memorial exhibit on campus was damaged in 2003. In response to the arson, SAS sponsored an “antihate rally” to which it invited all student groups except Jewish ones. Vice-Chancellor Gomez spoke at the rally, thus endorsing an event that deliberately excluded Jews. His explanation was that rally organizers had the right to invite whomever they wanted.[19] When, as mentioned, Jewish groups protested the Muslim students’ decision to wear shahada scarfs at the 2004 graduation, Gomez disregarded Jewish concerns, even calling them “hysterical” in an inadvertently publicly released email to an administrative colleague.[20]

Although by September 2004 the administration’s strategy was to encourage interreligious dialogue,[21] to this day it has continued to tolerate anti-Semitic rhetoric. In April 2006, the UCI Alumni Association and Vice-Chancellor Jorge Ancona honored Vanessa Zuabi Zuabi for making “the campus…a better place because of the achievements of our honorees.”[22] She was the vice-president of SAS when they excluded Jewish groups from the “antihate rally” and carried posters of the Star of David defaced by the swastika.

When the administration refused the request of Stand With Us to record the speakers whom MSU and SAS brought to the university, StandWithUs did. The recordings are part of a documentary film, titled Tolerating Intolerance: Hate Speech on Campus, that premiered on 29 September 2005 and has had public showings across the country.


Muslim Organizations Protest Pro-Israeli Event

After years of silence about the incitement of hatred against Jews by MSU and SAS, the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) of Southern California went into action along with other organizations, including the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California that comprises sixty Islamic centers, mosques, and Muslim organizations. Together these groups protested a pro-Israeli event,[23] organized by Jewish students and community groups, by writing an “Open Letter to the Jewish Leaders and Community in Orange County.”[24] They denounced Daniel Pipes, one of the panelists, as a hatemongering Islamophobe, and expressed concern that his speaking would “increase animosity and incite hatred against the American Muslim and Arab communities.”[25]


College Republicans Sponsor Event about Islamic Terrorism and Danish Cartoons

Four years of virulent anti-Israeli/anti-Zionist/anti-Semitic events on campus were tolerated by the UCI administration as demonstrations of free speech. Finally, the College Republicans, a student group, and the United American Committee, a community organization, held a discussion at UCI on 28 February 2006 about Islamic terrorism and free speech in which three of the “Danish” cartoons of Mohammed and three anti-Semitic cartoons from Arab publications were displayed.

Hypocritically disregarding their own actions in organizing events that incited hatred against Jews, and ignoring Arab anti-Semitic cartoons, MSU protested displaying the cartoons at UCI as inciting hatred against and deeply hurting the Muslim community. Using an illogical double standard, MSU board member Marye Bangee stated: “This is diametrically opposed to the spirit of a university campus, a place for intellectual debate that fosters mutual understanding and respect.”[26] The closest the event did come to hate speech was when one of the speakers, the Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, president of the Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny, called Islam an “evil religion,” although he said that Muslims were not evil.[27]

After years of the UCI administration tolerating virulently anti-Semitic rhetoric in the name of free speech, the dean of students, Sally Peterson, asked the College Republicans to compromise their free speech by not showing the cartoons; they refused.[28] In a similar action in 2004, she indeed suppressed the College Republicans’ freedom of expression to protest “affirmative action” when she banned their suggested price list for a bake sale in which the same cookies had different prices depending on the buyer’s ethnic status.[29]

The Zionist Organization of America Sues UCI

In October 2004, after other efforts to address the hostility and intimidation on campus had failed, the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) sued UC- Irvine under Title VI of the federal 1964 Civil Rights Law. Title VI prohibits organizations that receive federal funds from allowing harassment, intimidation, or discrimination based on race, color, or national origin. This suit is the first Title VI complaint of university anti-Semitism that the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Education Department has agreed to investigate, and is underway.[30]

It took forty years after the passage of the Civil Rights Law to clarify that Title VI covers students of Jewish heritage. Only in 2004 did the Office for Civil Rights officially state that Title VI protects Jews.[31] Furthermore, in a major decision on 3 April 2006, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, after hearing testimony from Susan Tuchman, ZOA, Sarah Stern, American Jewish Congress, and Gary Tobin, Institute for Jewish and Community Research, determined that: anti-Semitism on college campuses throughout the United States is a serious problem; anti-Israeli and anti-Zionist rhetoric can be an expression of anti-Semitism; and colleges and universities should ensure that students are not subjected to a hostile environment engendered by anti-Semitism.[32]


The University of California states on its official website that: “The University’s fundamental missions are teaching, research and public service.” This clearly does not include political advocacy, and the university’s own policies state that the Regents “are responsible to see that the University remain aloof from politics and never function as an instrument for the advance of partisan interest.”[33] Yet UCI must reconcile its fundamental missions, including its forswearing of politics, with the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which protects rights of free expression, speech, and assembly.[34]

With regard to anti-Israeli/anti-Semitic agitation on campus, the UCI administration and faculty clearly have not reconciled these opposing demands. They failed in their fundamental mission of teaching by not  educating students about the basic distinction between demagoguery and critical inquiry, and by not sponsoring events that demonstrated to students the difference between racism that denies Jews the right to self-determination and legitimate criticism of Israeli policies.

They also failed as moral leaders by not exercising their own right of free speech to condemn bigotry, disregarding the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights’ recommendation of 3 April 2006 that university leadership should “set a moral example by denouncing anti-Semitic and other hate speech.”[35] They allowed students to be bombarded with hatred, even at times sanctioning it. The administration did not protect students from being involuntary audiences to anti-Zionist propaganda, or even from reasonable fear for their personal safety.[36]

Universities promote the freedom to examine unpopular ideas, but only in the context of the rules of meaningful academic scholarship and civil discourse. “Universities cannot pretend that calling for the destruction of Israel with the use of Nazi images is part of normal academic discourse.”[37] The de facto tolerance by the UC-Irvine administration and faculty of bigoted, reckless charges against Jews and the Jewish nation, disseminated to students by those who were unconcerned for truth, contradicts the basic responsibility to provide an environment conducive to critically examining knowledge and furthering the search for wisdom.


*     *     *



* The information and insights provided by Amihai Glazer of the University of California-Irvine, Allyson Taylor of the American Jewish Congress, Roz Rothstein of StandWithUs, and Roberta Seid of StandWithUs are gratefully acknowledged.










[10]  Personal videotape.

[11]  Kimi Yoshino, “Fresh Muslim-Jewish Discord on Campus,” Los Angeles Times, 12 May 2006,,0,3027401.story?coll=la-home-local; Ashraf Khalil, “Mideast Debate Takes Root at UC Irvine,” Los Angeles Times, 27 May 2006,,1,7374694.story?coll=la-headlines-politics;

Aaron Hanscom, “Investigating Terror at UC Irvine,”, 31 May 2006,; Allyson Taylor, “Impressions of the Anti-Zionist Hate Fest at UC Irvine,”, 25 May 2006,

[12] Aaron Hanscom, “Anti-Israel Hatefest at UC Irvine,”, 22 May 2006;

[13]  StandWithUs, American Jewish Congress, Anti-Defamation League, Hillel, Israel on Campus Coalition.

[14] Rebecca Spence, “College Chief Hit over Anti-Israel Event,” Forward, 26 May 2006,




[18] Personal communication from Amihai Glazer, professor of economics, UC Irvine.


[20] Personal communication from Allyson Taylor, American Jewish Congress.

[21] Personal communication from Amihai Glazer, professor of economics, UC Irvine. One meeting was scheduled for Shabbat and one for Rosh Hashanah.


[23] “Making the Case for Israel: Presenting an Accurate Picture of Middle East Realities,” 3-4 April 2005, at the University of California-Irvine and at the Merage Jewish Community Center of Orange County, presented by the Orange County Israel on Campus Coalition, StandWithUs, and the Hillel Foundation of Orange County together with Caravan for Democracy.


[25] Ibid.






[31] Kenneth L. Marcus, deputy assistant, U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, letter of 13 September 2004, about Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972.

[32] Mary Beth Marklein, “Anti-Israel Bias at Colleges Scrutinized,” USA Today, 3 April 2006,



[35] “Findings and Recommendations of the United States Commission on Civil Rights Regarding Campus Anti-Semitism.”


[37] Gary A. Tobin, Aryeh K. Weinberg, and Jenna Ferer, The Uncivil University (San Francisco: Institute for Jewish and Community Research, 2005), 11.

*     *     *

Leila Beckwith is a professor emeritus of the Pediatrics Department, University of California at Los Angeles. A developmental psychologist, she has taught and conducted research at UCLA for more than thirty years. The Palestinian war against Israel civilians during the Second Intifada, and the Al-Qaeda assault against American civilians on 9-11, led her to become politically active in the University of California framework.