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Muslim-Jewish tension persists

Radio host tries to steer leaders of UCI groups toward constructive dialogue, but they hit same political deadlock.

May 13, 2010|By Gretchen Meier

A taped forum hosted in Costa Mesa this week by public radio station KPCC sought to address conflicts between the Muslim and Jewish communities at UC Irvine. But in the end, the discussion seemed only to distill the political disagreements that have them at loggerheads.

Former campus student leaders, community members, and Muslim and Jewish organization leaders met at South Coast Repertory’s Julianne Argyros Stage in front of an audience of 100 people to also find ways for students to interact more constructively.

The program was organized in response to tensions that have simmered at UCI since the arrests of Muslim Student Union members during a speech on campus in February by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren.

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The live-to-tape broadcast, which aired Tuesday morning on KPCC’s AirTalk program, featured a conversation with Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of Muslim Public Affairs Council; Omar Zarka, a former president of the Muslim Student Union and recent UCI graduate; Isaac Yerushamli, former president of Anteaters for Israel and a fifth-year UCI student; and David Lehrer, president of Community Advocates Inc., a Los Angeles organization that promotes community dialogue.

The discussion remained calm during the hourlong program, but tensions rose when the recording concluded and host Larry Mantle opened the floor to audience questions.

Representatives of the MSU and Anteaters for Israel brought up problems each group has with the university about issues such as access to meeting and event space, scheduling and representation on campus, but they disagreed on how to resolve hostility between Muslim and Jewish students.

While Yerushamli spoke of creating individual relationships between community members despite political disagreements, Zarka said he doubted students with such strong political stances can get along.

“If you identify yourself as a Zionist, then I have to react and interact with you with that in mind,” Zarka said. “You have chosen to identify yourself as such.”

Yerushamli, the former Anteaters for Israel president, accused Zarka of rebuffing his requests to hold events that might help improve relations.

He recalled meeting with Zarka and asking to collaborate for a barbecue with both groups. Zarka turned down this request, he said, and instead proposed a debate about political issues.

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