Middle East Wars on U.S. Campuses

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The Muslim Student Union has a full slate of activities planned for this week on the theme of “Holocaust in the Holy Land.” Among today’s events are a rally around the idea of “Hamas: The People’s Choice.” And if you missed the point of the week’s theme of equating Israel to Nazi Germany, there is a lecture/rally on Thursday called “Israel: the Fourth Reich.”

Not surprisingly, many Jewish students at Irvine are angry. They are not calling for events to be banned, but have asked Irvine’s leaders to condemn the language being used as offensive and as a way to hurt Jewish students, not to engage in debate about Israel’s policies. Irvine officials are refusing to do so — saying that they can’t get into picking which campus events to disagree with or pick sides between the vocal critics and supporters of Israel on the campus.

Irvine in many ways reflects the way debates about diversity and respecting different groups of students are no longer issues of black and white. A majority of undergraduates at Irvine are Asian American — and largely uninvolved in a series of Middle East wars that have taken place at Irvine for years. But campus leaders who have spent their careers focused on how to encourage black and white students to get along (and of course Latino students and at some institutions Native Americans or foreign students) are finding that they may have their biggest challenge with religious differences among groups of American students. (While there are some campuses where strong criticism of Israel comes from students from the Middle East, the students at Irvine and many campuses are American citizens.)

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