How Pro-Israel Students at UCLA Are Taking Back Their Campus
JNS.org – Over the past few years, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) has been making headlines — but not only for academic or athletic achievement. Acts of antisemitism and anti-Zionism have been rampant among the school’s press clippings, adding UCLA to the long list of American colleges that have made many Jewish students feel unwelcome and, at times, fearful to be on campus.
For the past few weeks, anti-Israel forces have staged Israeli Apartheid Week, an annual global event on 150 campuses that vilifies the Jewish state in an attempt to paint Israel as an “oppressive” entity that engages in South African-style “apartheid policies.” A recent study by the anti-Semitism watchdog group AMCHA Initiative reveals that 99 percent of campuses that host anti-Israel groups and/or events have experienced anti-Semitic activity.
But Jewish and pro-Israel students at UCLA are taking back their campus. Bruins for Israel (BFI) and Students Supporting Israel (SSI) organized “Israel Unity Week” in an effort to “bring different people together.”
“Today, many Jewish-associated and Israel-associated groups work independently, creating fragmentation from within rather than empowering and strengthening one another,” explained Liat Menna, president of SSI at UCLA. “Unity Week has accomplished two objectives: one, uniting the UCLA Jewish and Zionist community by supporting and complementing each other’s efforts; and two, extending our community to other communities, in effect exchanging stories and learning from one another, to foster greater understanding and respect.”
On April 5, military veterans from the Israel Defense Forces and branches of the US Armed Forces participated in a panel discussion billed as the “Brothers and Sisters in Arms” night of unity. The veterans shared their experiences inside their respective militaries as well as upon their return to civilian society, especially campus life.
“The IDF and US veterans have similar, yet very different experiences. Finding commonalities allows us to come together,” said Menna, noting the shared US-Israel struggle of a “stigma surrounding veterans and their experiences.”
The SSI president added, “While having veterans speak among their respective communities is important, sharing stories with strangers is crucial in order to inspire dialogue that leads to critical conversations, cooperation, and togetherness.”
Other “Israel Unity Week” events included “Exploring Coexistence,” at which the speakers were a Palestinian human rights activist and a British-born Israeli journalist, as well as “Being a University Student in Israel and at UCLA,” which featured “dinner and dialogue with some of Israel’s top university students.” The themes of the weeklong program were mutual respect and coexistence, ideas that pro-Israel students say have been missing on the UCLA campus in recent times.
Last December, a student named Lisa Marie Mendez who works at the UCLA Medical Center took to social media to spew her hatred of Jews by posting “f**king Zionist pigs” and “greedy lifeless pieces of s**t.”
Also last year, UCLA student Rachel Beyda was applying to become a member of the student council’s judicial board when her Judaism came under the microscope. Her ability to be objective and have an “unbiased view,” due to her Jewish identity, was the focus of a 40-minute debate by the undergraduate student council. The council initially rejected her judicial board application, but eventually approved it.
According to AMCHA Initiative, 13 antisemitic incidents have occurred on the UCLA campus since 2015, including an event earlier this year that featured anti-Israel activist and author Max Blumenthal, who recently praised a 2014 Hamas terror attack that killed five Israeli soldiers. At his Jan. 27 appearance at UCLA, Blumenthal reportedly compared Jews to Nazis.
“Anti-Israel and antisemitic activity on campus seeks our destruction by weakening our communities through alienation tactics,” SSI’s Menna told the Haym Salomon Center. “We cannot let their hatred define us. We define our own community and we will continue to stand proud. We will continue to strengthen the Jewish and Zionist community on our campus and will continue to engage with more communities to foster a culture of respect, understanding, and hope, rather than ignorance, discouragement and hate.”