What started out as a particularly bad week for campus climate at UCLA has turned into a rare moment of respect and solidarity among two communities whose relationship has often been politically and personally fraught.
Now, it’s the responsibility of every UCLA student and administrator to capitalize on this moment of magnanimity and remind everyone what peace among communities – even those with real, deep and consequential political disagreements – looks like.
On Sunday, several offensive posters were found on campus and in the North Village depicting armed militants standing over a masked man with the words “Students for Justice in Palestine” written across the top and the word “#JewHaters” at the bottom.
Similar posters were subsequently found at universities across the country, including UC Irvine and DePaul University. On Tuesday, conservative writer and activist David Horowitz admitted to orchestrating the incident. Horowitz said he was motivated by the existence of “Jew hatred” on college campuses connected to the issue of divestment from companies that some say profit from alleged human rights violations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Although it’s comforting to know that the incident was not the work of any student organization, the posters are yet another incidence of hate targeting a specific group of students surrounding the politically charged issue of divestment.
UCLA has been rocked by this debate, and the relationship between Jewish and Pro-Israel communities and communities backing divestment has suffered under its weight. Even three months after our undergraduate student government passed a divestment resolution, the conversation between the two opposing sides has remained rife with tension and vitriol. This year’s UC Student Association meeting at UCLA, where UCSA passed a divestment resolution regarding Israel, involved involuntary filming of some pro-Palestine protesters and a walkout by our own student council president.
The incidents are seemingly endless, and the posters seemed like just another to add on to the tally. But the swift and respectful response from all members of the larger UCLA community has turned it into something different.
SJP at UCLA quickly put out a statement after the posters were found denouncing their presence, but also clarifying that it does not believe the posters to be indicative of the beliefs of any student groups on campus. Jewish and pro-Israel organizations reached out to SJP in the aftermath and helped take the posters down. Undergraduate Students Association Council President Avinoam Baral, who is vocally pro-Israel, condemned the fliers.
And Chancellor Gene Block, too, condemned the fliers in an email.
At a time of such high tension both at UCLA and throughout the UC system, this swift and unified response was a welcome surprise. It provided some hope that, although these communities differ over an important political question, their basic empathy for one another has not eroded. They are capable of forming a united front against bigotry, racism and hatred. They are capable of standing up and defending one another.
Those are important facts to keep in mind as UCLA heads into what will surely be another heated year of political debate. Communities are capable of vehement disagreement over deeply personal and moral issues while maintaining mutual respect for the other’s humanity.