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Hundreds Rally Against Alleged Arson

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  • Hundreds Rally Against Alleged Arson

    New University, University of California, Irvine
    May 31 2004

    Hundreds Rally Against Alleged Arson

    Speakers denounce the burning of an anti-Zionist cardboard wall and
    promise that free speech will prevail at UCI.
    by: Ben Ritter

    Rob Oandasan

    Rob oandasan | New University Students from various groups walk
    around Ring Road to support the Society of Arab Students a week after
    their cardboard wall was destroyed.

    About 200 students and other concerned community members gathered
    on the steps outside of the Administration Building on May 27 to
    demonstrate unity against hate crimes, centering on the destruction
    on May 21 of a cardboard wall constructed by the Society of Arab
    Students to dramatize heightened Israeli-Palestinian relations.

    The crowd gathered under a yellow banner that read "Hate crimes
    and racism will not silence us!" Many demonstrators wore armbands
    made from caution tape while others held signs with slogans such as
    "Obliterate the hate," "Hate is not the answer" and "Say no to hate."

    Osama Abuljebain, president of SAS, was the first to speak against
    hate crimes on campus.

    "The Society of Arab Students is firm on working towards ending hate
    crimes against Arabs and Muslims and all other fellow Americans
    suffering from such crimes here on campus and in our community,"
    Abuljebain said.

    Manuel Gomez, vice chancellor of student affairs, spoke of his own
    outrage against the destruction of the wall, which he called "an act
    of intimidation against the principles of our entire community."

    Gomez also stressed the administration's commitment to maintaining
    an atmosphere conducive to the free exchange of ideas.

    "When I receive pleas and letters to shut down student demonstrations
    on the campus, I continuously defend our community," Gomez said. "I
    believe that there is no better environment than a university in
    which we are having these kinds of conversations and discussions."

    Gomez advised that students should band together despite their
    differences when faced with such an attack on free expression.

    "It is during times like this that we all put aside our political
    differences to respect the liberties of free expression without
    intimidation," Gomez said. Speakers from other community organizations
    also expressed their support of campus free speech efforts.

    Preston Wood, from Act Now to Stop War and End Racism Coalition said
    that the destruction of the wall was a manifestation of bigotry that
    must be sought out and destroyed wherever it exists in the world.

    "The violent destruction of the wall is just another demonstration
    of bigotry gone wild, and it needs to be responded to," Wood said.

    Nader Abuljebain, representing the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination
    Committee, expressed gratitude to the administration for their
    investigation of the crime.

    "We appreciate the efforts that are being done by the UCI
    administration to investigate this crime and to denounce the arson
    attack as a hate crime because it sends a clear message to our
    students and community that the university cares about the safety
    and the welfare of its students," Abuljebain said.

    Representatives of other student organizations including the Armenian
    Student Association, the Muslim Student Union, MEChA and ASUCI also
    pledged support for the SASs advocation of free political expression
    on campus.

    Some students attended the rally because they had felt personally
    threatened by the crime that had been committed.

    "We're out here to protest against hate," said Layla Shaikley, a
    first-year undecided/undeclared major. "As a member of the Muslim
    Student Union, part of the foundation of my religion is peace. As
    a member of the Society of Arab Students, there is no way that I am
    going to stand for being threatened because of my ethnicity."

    One campus group, however, felt unwelcome at the rally. According
    to Anteaters for Israel they were turned away by the SAS when they
    wished to show their support.

    "Last Monday, news cameras were on campus covering the burning of
    the wall and interviewing members of the Society of Arab Students,"
    said Larry Mahler, President of Alpha Epsilon Pi and a member of
    Anteaters for Israel. "I approached some of the students and expressed
    my sympathy, because similar things had happened to our group in the
    past, like the defacing of our Holocaust memorial last year. I said
    that Anteaters for Israel would be more than happy to support them
    in the free speech rally that they had planned."

    Despite their will to support the organization, SAS declined their

    Mahler said that the rejection of his group's support, which he
    attributes to differences in political opinions between the two groups,
    was like "a slap in the face."

    "Although we have disagreed politically with the Society of Arab
    Students, here is a time when we should support each other," Mahler
    said. "Free speech and opposition to the destruction of property is
    one thing that we should agree upon ... A lot of other organizations
    were represented at the rally. It would have been nice to be a part
    of the rest of the community and not to be excluded."

    Vanessa Zuabi, vice president of the SAS responded by saying that
    they didn't want AFI at the rally because they did not want to turn
    the rally into a political issue.

    "We didn't want to make the rally political in any way shape or form.
    We didn't want the issue of Palestine and Israel to overshadow what
    we were really there for which was to stand against hate. We didn't
    want any other issue to overshadow it," Zuabi said.

    According to Zuabi, the Model United Nations will be organizing
    dialogue between certain Arab and Israelis students in the next week.

    "You automatically create these boundaries when you come in as
    representatives of an organization. It's better to come into the
    discussion as an individual," Zuabi said.