Students of the University of California, Irvine (UCI) are speaking out against the Jewish Federation and Family Services of Orange County and its history of intimidation of pro-Israel students. Several students have recently come forward to share the challenges they have faced from the organization, including an incident in which a Federation official “blamed” a Jewish student who was assaulted by anti-Israel protesters and objected to her calling the police. In general, students report extreme frustration with ongoing hostility from the Federation, and in light of recent controversy involving the organization head’s public abuse of a pro-Israel student, they have chosen to tell their stories.
The pro-Israel UCI organization Anteaters for Israel (AFI), instead of being encouraged and supported by the Federation and its local Hillel, have not only become the focus of the Federation’s ire, but also the victims of its appeasement of demonstrably Jew-hating groups such as the Muslim Student Union (MSU) and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). It is no surprise, therefore, that at least three members of AFI, Sharon Shaoulian, Jackie A. and Emily P.*, have become increasingly alarmed and concerned about the Jew-hatred on UCI's campus and what appears to be the unimpeded growth of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement there.
According to the students, in May of 2014 an ugly physical assault by the MSU and SJP occurred during IFEST, the annual celebration of Israel on the UCI campus. What happened was bad enough but what followed was even worse. Students say they were intimidated by the Federation and ostracized because they had called the police to report the assault.
The assault took place on the UCI campus around the same time that Nonie Darwish, an Egyptian American who is the founder of Arabs for Israel, would have spoken there. However, two days before she was to speak she was disinvited by the leaders of the Federation and Hillel because they considered her to be "too inflammatory." Student leaders from AFI who had booked Ms. Darwish were forced to cancel her at the last moment. According to AFI board members Jackie and Emily, the Federation threatened students by telling them that they would encourage all other outside organizations to stop funding the campus student group AFI if they did not comply with their demand and cancel Ms. Darwish. Ms. Darwish, whose father was killed by the IDF for conducting terrorist operations against Israel while he was working for President Nasser of Egypt, has become a passionate advocate for Israel, but such people are anathema to the Federation and Hillel.
Sharon, Emily and Jackie were all in attendance at the unfortunate incident at IFEST in 2014. Jackie explained that at the event, she and another student, both AFI board members involved in attending to IFEST activities, stopped to talk for a moment in the middle of the festival walkway. At this time, approximately 40 anti-Israel protesters, predominately from the MSU and SJP, charged through the festival in a long, horizontal line in an attempt to physically plow IFEST attendees out of the walkway. Jackie witnessed the other student being intentionally grabbed and pushed to ground in the middle of the hostile crowd. Jackie said she attempted to help her friend, and as she did, she heard one of the male protesters in the crowd say, "Get out of the way. I’m not afraid to push a girl." Jackie nonetheless was able to help her friend up from the ground. Jackie described her friend as “very scared, very afraid and angry” and was left with bruises and scratches. Emily, who reported being pushed herself, also saw the injuries of the assaulted student. She noted that the MSU/SJP protesters were all very threatening, especially the male protester she identified as being responsible for the assault.
The distraught students decided to call the police. In reaction to this, Jackie witnessed a Federation official “blaming” her friend, the assaulted student, and telling her that she should not take action. Sharon also witnessed the Federation official berating the assaulted student and objecting to the police being called. Police, however, were indeed called to the scene. According to Jackie, when the police arrived, the students’ options were to let the incident go or to have an arrest made. The girls discussed what to do and decided not to go forward with an arrest. “We just made a report,” Jackie said, noting that at the time they thought an arrest would be a disproportionate response.
Due to the events that took place in 2014, students decided that this year they would hold IFEST without funding from the Federation. This, they calculated, would give them autonomy. Sharon, the president of AFI, instead obtain funding from other organizations that would not dictate with whom they could associate, such as the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) and the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA). Nevertheless, Federation CEO and president Shalom Elcott appeared on campus. He was witnessed by numerous individuals wildly screaming at Sharon, who had organized the entire event. She had invited members of the Orange County Jewish community who proudly waved Israeli and American flags at the event in the presence of anti-Israel protesters. A representative of the Federation, Lisa Armony, was witnessed discouraging this activity and trying to direct the flag-wavers back.
Jackie noted that,
"Elcott doesn't know what it feels like to be in the campus climate and is totally out of touch and doesn't know what's been going on for many years. We have to live on the campus, the Federation does not."
They are out of touch. It's a disgrace. Their ignorance and attitude was a disgrace. Why did he [Elcott] show up just to put us down? They don't have the authority over the students they claim to have. They are an outside organization and as such they do not have standing on our campus. The Federation is doing everything it can to take down AFI, the pro-Israel campus group. Sharon worked so hard just to have 'professionals' try to ruin everything.
The students who were interviewed for this article suggest that the Federation would prefer that the community remains ignorant of the truth about Jew-hatred on campus. They do not want the impression to be given that it is unsafe for Jewish students to attend UC Irvine.
Jackie, Emily and Sharon started to ask questions about why the Federation refuses to deal with such overt and enthusiastic anti-Semitism on campus. According to Emily,
The Federation said they had worked so hard with the administration that we, the students, need to work hard not to break it. It makes it sound like what they are doing is all for the students' benefit but they are not protecting us. The administration has done nothing to protect us on campus and this has been covered up by the Federation. They prefer to appease the administration.
Shalom Elcott, CEO of the Federation, is not involved in the campus every day and he doesn't experience the anti-Semitism. For example, many students do not feel comfortable in the cross-cultural center. They feel it's a hostile environment for Jewish students who are made to feel uncomfortable.
The MSU/SJP held their annual Israeli “Apartheid” week the following week after IFEST. Jackie, Emily and Sharon also reported that they witnessed Federation officials putting up a curious booth at the event that displayed a sign reading: “Jews and Arabs Refuse to Be Enemies,” as well as the Palestinian and Israeli flags. One student remarked,
We were shocked to see the Palestinian flag and an Israeli flag arrive and be set up at the booth by the Federation. We witnessed and were appalled to see that it was Federation employees putting up the Palestinian flag. Yet, one week earlier the Federation wanted the Israeli flags moved away from the MSU who were obstructing our pro-Israel event.
“Jews and Arabs Refuse to Be Enemies” is a seemingly benign social media campaign and activism group with controversial underpinnings. One of the co-founders of the campaign, Abraham Gutman, recently tweeted that he was on the subway on his way to “oppose the #CelebrateIsrael Parade” in New York City held May 31, 2015. Social media posts on the group’s Facebook page compare Palestine with Ferguson and decry the “occupation” and the Gaza blockade. Printed literature available at the booth featured the Parent Circle Family Forum. This NGO is funded by the New Israel Fund, yet another anti-Israel organization with a pro-Israel sounding name. In the past, the Federation has also been exposed for providing tens of thousands of dollars to a student travel program called the Olive Tree Initiative that exposes impressionable participants to lectures from viciously anti-Israel activists, including leaders in the terrorism-supporting International Solidarity Movement (ISM) and BDS movement.
Sharon, Jackie and Emily have valid concerns. Numerous other strong Zionist students at UC Irvine have shared an almost identical experience when it comes to Israel advocacy. Each student is ready to create meaningful pro-Israel programming to help make the campus more comfortable for proud Jewish students and for non-Jewish Zionists. However, they soon discover that their efforts are frustrated. Another AFI student from 2003, who wished to remain anonymous, said she also “got a lot of character assassination from Shalom Elcott” and was “painted as a troublemaker…by some community members” because she tried to get AFI away from “Hillel control.” Reut Cohen, part of AFI in 2005, said she “had her reputation ruined by the Jewish Federation’s executives” because she refused their weak strategy and fought back. Daniel Narvy, AFI president in 2013, reported that he was blacklisted from leadership positions for being politically conservative and religiously Orthodox.
It is clear that the experience of Sharon, Jackie and Emily are not unique. It is a distinct pattern of continuous abuse that has been taking place for over a decade.
All of these students chose to sacrifice their studies and their time for the sake of Zionist advocacy on the campus. Seeing that Hillel was ineffective in dealing with strong anti-Israel and anti-Jewish abuse from the MSU and SJP, they chose to be involved in Anteaters For Israel. They all understood that as young students they had the right to be in charge of what happens on their own campus. They did not agree with the weak, degrading, pathetic messaging of the Federation, which ludicrously has students chant “We’re pro-Palestinian too, let’s talk it out!” while members of the MSU and SJP assault Jewish students and chant “From the river to the sea Palestine will be free!” These strong students all chose not to allow their programming and their messaging to be dictated by the Federation and they were all punished for it.
Nothing is being done to stop this behavior by the Federation, but here is something that would stop it: the Jewish Federation of North America should decertify the Jewish Federation & Family Services of Orange County until a pro-Israel CEO can be appointed — someone who does not harass and vilify pro-Israel students for not conforming to his demands to be less pro-active.
In Las Vegas recently billionaire Sheldon Adelson convened a not-so-secret meeting with leaders of the national and various local Jewish Federations, as well as leaders of major Jewish advocacy groups across the United States because the BDS movement has now reached epidemic proportions. In 2010 the Jewish Federation of North America said it would spend $6 million over three years to fight BDS. If it had done anything of significance, particularly in Orange County, where the Federation seems confused about its allegiance and often behaves as if it has gone over to the other side, Mr. Adelson's important meeting would not be necessary. Announcing one is going to do something and actually doing it are two different things. In the future it would be best for the Jewish Federation of North America not to get the two confused.
Over the last 67 years one thing has never changed. Israel is still surrounded by genocidal enemies whose undiminished goal is her extinction. That is the horrifying reality which Shalom Elcott, his fellow travelers at the Federation and his accomplices at Hillel refuse to accept. Perhaps it is too terrifying for them to imagine, but it is exactly this kind of failure of imagination that allowed 6 million Jews to shuffle into the death camps unaware of what the Nazis had in store for them.
The inability or, worse still, the cold reluctance to distinguish between the fire and the fire brigade is the first hallmark of the appeaser. It is no excuse for the so-called Jewish leaders of today to appease the gruesome and determined Islamic fascists on the UCI campus by intimidating and harassing Jewish students hoping, to paraphrase Churchill, that if they keep feeding the crocodile, the crocodile will eat them last. By so doing they are being played for fools, but much worse than that, they are collaborating with evil and in a very shocking way they have become evil themselves.
*Editor’s note: Some last names have been withheld to protect student privacy. Initials of last names are pseudonymous.
This article has been updated to include CAMERA as a donor to IFEST.
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