The Irvine Intifada: An Interview with Reut Cohen
by Aaron Hanscom
The apartheid state of Israel is on the way down, too. They are living in straight-up fear, and it’s about time that they live in fear. I’m told that they’re afraid to get on buses and things, or go to the cafe. … The people who you are fighting are coming to die. Meanwhile, you are coming to live. And once you deal with a people who are ready to die, who say either victory or martyrdom, you can’t fight against that.
Even more disturbing than this rhetoric was the reaction it received from the hosts of the annual anti-Israel festival, the members of UCI’s Muslim Student Union (MSU). Cries of “Allahu Akbar!” rose from the Muslim students in attendance.
Now there’s a new-and more shocking-video from UCI circulating across the internet. On January 31, members of the MSU staged a coordinated disruption of Daniel Pipes’ talk on the topic of “The Threat to Israel’s Existence.” Following them out of the lecture hall as they chanted “Anti-Israel” was third-year Irvine student Reut Cohen, who documents the growing wave of anti-Semitic activities at UCI on her blog. Once outside, with Cohen’s video camera still running, an organizer of the protest gave an impromptu speech. To shouts of “Takbir” and “Allahu Akbar,” he said:
They have no future. And it’s just a matter of time before the state of Israel will be wiped off the face of the earth…. Our weapon, our jihad, our way of struggling in this country is with our tongues. We speak out, and we deflate their morale, and this is the best we can do right now. And our brothers and sisters, on the other side of the world, they’re handling business in their own way. May Allah give them strength…
To counter Muslim radicalism on campus, students like Cohen will also need strength. In this interview, I ask Cohen about the worrisome situation at her university:
Q: During last year’s MSU-sponsored “Holocaust in the Holy Land” event, one Muslim student wore an “Intifada” T-shirt. Your video shows many members of the MSU wearing T-Shirts reading “Campus Intifada.” What can you tell us about this latest fashion trend to hit campus?
COHEN: It’s not an isolated statement. Members of the Muslim Student Union often wear other clothing with “Freedom Fighter” stamped across or green stoles (which suicide bombers typically wear) emblazoned with the Arabic word ‘shahada.’ MSU released a statement suggesting that ‘shahada’ is an affirmation of faith.
Considering the behaviors expressed by MSU members, it’s hard to believe that these students are simply affirming their faith. MSU’s activities constantly reveal support for violence and anti-Semitism. MSU members have made their positions clear: they support Hamas, they support “freedom fighting” and they have publicly declared that Zionists have no future and Israel will soon be wiped off the map. The MSU at UC Irvine are cheerleaders for terrorists and their garb clearly reflects this.
Q: What happened when you followed the protestors outside with your video camera. How are Jewish students at UCI typically treated by Muslim students?
COHEN: My purpose in following the Muslim Student Union outside of the lecture hall was to record their position for the UCI community and for my readers. I did not want to taunt the MSU or disturb their protest (although the MSU would never be so fair and diplomatic with pro-Israel students). The MSU didn’t expect anyone to follow them outside since it was so late and dark. They seemed preoccupied with chanting “Anti-Israel, Anti-Hate” until they saw me. I’m sure that they felt that their laughter, waving and taking pictures of me would persuade me to return to the lecture hall. I did nothing of the sort. I refuse to give in to silly scare tactics.
Q: There were reports last year that the FBI was investigating Muslim students at UCI for ties to terrorism. (These reports were later denied.) On your blog you write that you “distinctly heard MSU members/leaders state that Israel will soon be wiped off the earth and that Zionist students have no future.” Should the community be worried about such blatant endorsements of terrorism?
COHEN: Filming the MSU spontaneous hate-rally confirms for me what they have articulated at countless events. You can hear this for yourself. The MSU clearly suggests that Zionist students and Israel have no future.
Your readers need to be aware that there are students at a relatively quiet, suburban university who preach hate and promote vile anti-Jewish rhetoric. Although these members with the MSU are arguably within the bounds of protected speech, the endorsement of terrorism is not something that should be overlooked.
Q: The MSU also protested a College Republican-sponsored event last year, which featured the unveiling of the Danish cartoons of Mohammed. Why are UCI’s Muslim students so unwilling to debate those who disagree with them?
COHEN: The MSU asserts that Islam is the only true message of God. While I believe that everyone is entitled to their own religion and beliefs, there is no place on campus for a group that demonizes those who are different from them.
The Muslim Student Union not only refuses to debate politics, it declines to be involved in any kind of social event with Jewish or remotely pro-Israel organizations such as the College Republicans. Recently the Jewish Student Union at UCI was supposed to co-sponsor a religious diversity panel with the MSU. The MSU, unfortunately, withdrew from the event only a few hours prior to it.
It seems to me that the MSU refuses to have any sort of constructive dialogue with anyone who will not shout “Death to Israel” or accept the notion that Islam is the most pure of religions. They suggest that they are not anti-Jewish, but my experiences lead me to believe that promoting events that demonize an entire country filled with Jews is deeply rooted in anti-Semitism.
Q: How can Islamic radicalism at UCI be curbed?
COHEN: When students condone terrorism on campus and identify with terrorists abroad there is a big problem. The first step is for the university administration to publicly condemn hateful rhetoric directed towards Israel, “Zionist Jews” and America.
Of course the MSU can claim that their events (including “Holocaust in the Holy Land”) fall within the bounds of “free speech,” since they only incite hatred against Jews in socially acceptable terms. But freedom of speech can not be monopolized by one party on this campus. The UCI administration must speak out against overtly hateful speech directed at a portion of the student body. MSU’s right to free speech does not require the administration to be silent when MSU calls for the destruction of Israel and threatens students who support her.
Irvine administrators have not been helpful. Chancellor Berdahl, from UC Berkeley, signed a letter published in The New York Times warning against anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish activity on campus. UC Irvine’s chancellor (Ralph Cicerone at that time) refused to sign this letter. Our current chancellor at UCI has arguably taken a step forward by calling hate speech “repugnant,” but he didn’t specify which group was responsible for the hate-speech. Such a condemnation is merely perfunctory. It condemns nothing and no one. It sends a clear message from the administration to MSU: incitement against Jews is acceptable on our campus and will not incur consequences, no matter how disgusting the rhetoric.
MSU promotes events designed to be hateful. These events often culminate in intimidation and harassment. Following many such “free speech” gatherings at which Imams predict the destruction of the “Zionist Jews,” many students at UCI have been confronted with spray-painted swastikas, hate-mail, strange phone calls, jeering and cursing.
Despite this, MSU organizers have managed to avoid significant criticism from the administration. Conversely those who voice concern over MSU’s actions are depicted as stirring up trouble and causing tension. One of the ways MSU does this is by asserting that hatred of Israel is part of their cultural and religious identity, and therefore anyone who confronts their anti-Jewish rhetoric deserves to be branded a racist. It remains to be seen whether UCI administrators will be able to see through this ploy and speak out against the frequent slandering of Jewish students by another campus student group. I fear that if this does not happen soon, the consequences for Jewish students on campus will be tragic.
On a more hopeful note people should know that working with organizations like the Anteaters for Israel (UCI’s pro-Israel group) and Orange County StandWithUs have allowed me to tell Israel’s side of the story. Despite the protests at the Daniel Pipes lecture, the majority of individuals who attended the lecture were pleased with the event and with the work of many UCI students and community members. In order to curb Islamic radicalism on the UCI campus we must educate those around us and expose the activities of groups like MSU, while having the courage to confront them when they slander Israel.