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Editorial: Hate crime at UC Davis detracts from constructive campus dialogue

By Editorial Board

Feb. 5, 2015 12:01 a.m.

Hate speech reared its ugly head again on a University of California campus during divestment debates, in what has become a sad and predictable pattern.

On Jan. 31, red swastikas were found spray painted on the exterior walls and grounds of the UC Davis branch of the Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi. This despicable act occurred a few days after the Associated Students of UC Davis voted to advise the university to divest from “corporations that aid in the Israeli occupation of Palestine and illegal settlements in Palestinian territories.”

Similar resolutions have been passed by the undergraduate student governments of a number of UC schools including UC Berkeley, UC San Diego and UCLA, sparking protests and counter-protests across the state.

Campus divestment resolutions often deal with very sensitive cultural and political issues and regardless of the outcome of the vote, some portion of the campus community ends up feeling marginalized. But there is no excuse for resorting to hate speech or hateful acts like those seen at UC Davis in recent days.

All university administrators and student groups should join in denouncing this hateful act, and many already have.

Hate speech is both easier and louder than constructive dialogue and debate. It is reprehensible and has no place at institutions that are dedicated to conscientious conversation.

Hate speech attacks groups where they are at their most vulnerable, often stirring painful cultural memories. Its sole purpose is to cast aside rational argument, incite hostility, drive communities apart and take us all back to an era where religious subjugation and racial epithets were government sanctioned.

Whoever painted those swastikas sought to humiliate the Jewish community at UC Davis, yet they also undermined a larger years-long divestment movement spearheaded by Students for Justice in Palestine as a byproduct.

While the two events have not been definitively linked, the hostile nature of the discourse around divestment is almost certainly responsible for creating an environment where the vandalism could happen.

After the meeting, one of the UC Davis student senators who voted to pass the proposal, Azka Fayyaz, wrote a series of Facebook posts including one that read in part “Israel will fall insha’Allah.”

She later wrote an open letter to the UC Davis community that characterized her statements as satirical. But the statements come in the midst of a campus debate that already marginalizes campus communities, and her statements in this context are an offensive and shameful affront to her position as an elected campus representative.

However, the acts of these few individuals involved in defacing the AEPi fraternity house and making these offensive statements does not invalidate the divestment efforts of the larger UC Davis student body. For every hateful person, there are thousands who embrace mutual understanding and cooperation.

While every group or movement will have zealots who undermine their cause, they should not be taken as representatives of the whole.

It is easy to cast aside hundreds of hours of conversation and constructive dialogue under the red haze of hate, but that is precisely why it should not be done. If these acts are allowed to overshadow the entire divestment movement, then hate paints over reconciliation.

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