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May 22, 2016 1:28 am

Detractors Stay Silent as UCLA Celebrates Israel Independence Week

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Participants of UCLA's Israel Independence Week on campus. Photo: Shani Shahmoon.

Participants of UCLA’s Israel Independence Week on campus. Photo: Shani Shahmoon. – On the campus of University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), they’re partying like it’s 1948 — and Israel’s usual detractors are staying silent.

Advocates of Israel celebrated Israel Independence Week at UCLA, participating in numerous activities courtesy of Bruins for Israel (BFI). As is the case with a number of the schools in the 10-campus University of California system, UCLA is regarded as a staunchly anti-Israel campus. According to the antisemitism watchdog group AMCHA Initiative, there have been 13 incidents of antisemitism at UCLA over the past 18 months.

At UCLA’s Israel Independence Day Festival on May 9, Jews, Israelis, and people of diverse faiths congregated in the center of campus to sing and dance to Israeli music, surrounded by the waving of Israeli flags. Their excitement was affirmed by curious students wanting to learn more and in many cases, joining in on the fun.

Omer Hit, a fourth-year undergraduate student at UCLA and the current president of BFI, said, “This day acknowledges that people can be proud of who they are, but also be proud of and engage the other.”

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The Independence Day festival included informational booths that showed and explained the diversity within Israel, including sharing the Arab-Israeli narrative. Posters shared stories of Israeli-Arab citizens’ accomplishments within the Jewish state, from Lucy Aharish, an Israeli-Arab news anchor, to Yusef Mishleb, a general in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). The posters also drew on the religious diversity within Israel.

In the past, anti-Israel groups at UCLA have protested events that celebrate the Jewish state. But this year, the UCLA chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) did not approach the Independence Week events.

Prateek Puri, a second-year graduate student at UCLA and SJP’s finance director, said, “From our understanding, BFI has chosen to use this week to commemorate Israeli lives lost and the creation of Israel. We urge the campus community to also recognize that a substantial amount Palestinian lives have also been lost as a result of violence in the region over the past century.”

Puri added, “Given that SJP and JVP are both currently occupied with arranging guest speaker events to help promote our message on campus, we didn’t think countering a BFI event would be the most effective use of our time.”

UCLA made national headlines last year when student Rachel Beyda, upon applying to become a member of the student government’s judicial board, was questioned over her ability to be objective and have an “unbiased view” due to her Jewish identity. Her religion 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. Earlier this year, anti-Israel and pro-Hamas activist Max Blumenthal compared Jews to Nazis when he spoke on the UCLA campus.

Following the May 9 festival, BFI hosted an Israeli Memorial Day (Yom Hazikaron) ceremony on May 11. The memorial ceremony included a presentation on IDF lone soldiers; the story of Michael Levin, an American who joined the IDF and died in combat during the Second Lebanon War; the two-minute siren that also rings on Memorial Day in Israel; and the singing of the Israeli national anthem, Hatikvah.

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