About 30 students and alumni shared personal stories of hate speech on campus and ideas of how to make campus climate more inclusive at a town hall Thursday night hosted by Students for Justice in Palestine.
The town hall centered around offensive posters targeting Students for Justice in Palestine that were posted at UCLA and other colleges across the country Sunday. The images depicted militants clutching assault rifles and guarding a masked man, the words Students for Justice in Palestine written above and #JewHaters written below. Conservative activist David Horowitz later confirmed that his organization was responsible for the posters.
One student remembered when he first encountered hate speech and how it affected him growing up.
“I was in middle school and the teacher mentioned the Middle East,” said fourth-year comparative literature student Safwan Ibrahim. “One of the girls raised her hand and asked if that was where bad people come from.”
Ibrahim, the vice president of Students for Justice in Palestine, said he had to get used to this sort of talk and is not surprised by it anymore. He said he was amazed that an image of a group of people could affect someone at such an early point in life.
Undeclared first-year student Arielle Mokhtartadeh, who is Jewish, and fifth-year biochemistry and gender studies student Faria Tahir, a member of Students for Justice in Palestine, talked about similar feelings of insecurity, anger and shock at the posters.
Mokhtartadeh said she felt upset and worried when she heard the news about the posters. She said they exacerbated worries that she could not be open with her Jewish identity on campus, and feared anything she said about Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could be used against her. She said these feelings are what motivated her to attend the town hall and engage in a dialogue with the Palestinian community about the posters.
“As a member of a community affected by hate speech on this campus, I think it’s important to see how other people feel and show support,” Mokhtartadeh said.
Tahir said she learned about the posters from other Students for Justice in Palestine members, who she said were shocked and distraught by the images they awoke to Sunday. Tahir said she appreciates when people can come together to try to put an end to stereotyping and marginalization.
President of Students for Justice in Palestine Omar Zahzah, a third-year graduate student in comparative literature, said he was pleased with the UCLA administration’s swift removal of the posters and noted members of both the Palestinian and Jewish communities can work together to fight what he believes is a common evil.
“While we may have political differences, we can unite to fight essentialism and bigotry in its worst form,” Zahzah said.
Angelica Becerra, a third-year graduate student in psychology and outreach coordinator of Students for Justice in Palestine, said she thinks Islamophobia and anti-Semitism on campus affects everyone, and that making it only a Jewish and Palestinian issue presents a false dichotomy in solving the greater issue of hate speech on campus.
“Students are exposed to Islamophobia and anti-Semitism on this campus and are annoyed by it, they want it to end,” Becerra said.