2019-2020 University of California – Davis CAMERA Fellow Jacob Greenstein

The UC Davis Cross Cultural Center (CCC) is committed to the idealistic goal of building a just and liberated world. The building provides a space for many unique communities to pursue advocacy, identity exploration, and — most importantly — cultural competency. Despite its genuinely good goal, the Cross Cultural Center has consistently failed to extend its mission to Jewish pro-Israel students on campus due to blatant acts of exclusion and hostility.

Last year on May 16, two Jewish pro-Israel students found inflammatory posters in a CCC window facing a path that thousands of students pass through daily. The posters portrayed the complex conflict between Israel and Hamas, the world-recognized terrorist organization in control of the Gaza Strip, in simplistic terms, portraying Israel as the clear aggressor.

While misleading, these posters are certainly permitted as free speech. However, the Jewish students felt that more context was necessary and asked the Cross Cultural Center if they could put up their own posters to present a nuanced perspective. Such posters would no doubt be in accordance with the CCC’s mission of cultural competency, but the CCC did not approve the Jewish students’ posters.

When pressed for an explanation, the Cross Cultural Center director stated, “There were a few reasons as to why the staff unanimously decided not to post the posters,” but failed to specifically cite what policy the Jewish students’ poster violated.

Throughout the following fall quarter, Jewish student leaders continuously met with CCC staff to resolve the issue, so that future Jewish students could feel included at the center. Yet the CCC failed to provide any updated posting policy, even after they admitted they needed to be “more clear and transparent going forward.”

After months of frustration, the Jewish students and their attorneys sent a letter to the university arguing that the Cross Cultural Center violated many university policies. For example, posters failed to clearly indicate the name of the sponsoring person(s) or organization(s); this policy is in place so it does not appear that the university sponsors the posters’ contents. In addition, the university, including the CCC, must remain neutral on all political and religious matters. By denying Jewish students the ability to post, while allowing others to do so, the university does not appear neutral. These are just a few of the argued violations.

The university quickly responded and stated they would take immediate action by informing the CCC of their legal violations.

“Throughout the following fall quarter, Jewish student leaders continuously met with CCC staff to resolve the issue, so that future Jewish students could feel included at the center.”

Unfortunately, this was not an isolated incident. Back in 2002, the CCC distributed a letter claiming that “Zionism is an ideology that we consider racist in nature because it denies the Palestinians their identity and nationhood.” Many Jewish students identify as Zionist because they believe that the Jewish people have a right to self-determination in their indigenous homeland of Israel. The 2002 scandal shows how the CCC knew its environment was unwelcoming to Jewish students, and failed to make proper changes.

Currently, there are some signs of hope. Dialogue between Jewish student leaders and the CCC is ongoing and promising. The Cross Cultural Center has promised to work with an Israel advocacy group on campus, Aggies for Israel, to plan inclusive events at the center. There are plans to hold the Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony and the Passover Mimouna celebration in the CCC community room next year. However, hosting these events at the center does nothing to make Israeli students feel included in the Middle Eastern community. For example, the CCC consistently hosts Students for Justice in Palestine’s hateful anti-Zionism week, but has never permitted any Israeli celebration. If the CCC truly wants to improve its relationship with the Jewish community, it must find a way to connect with Zionists as well.

The Cross Cultural Center at UC Davis has tremendous potential to be a bastion of diversity. Unfortunately, today the CCC is a champion of conformity to a single viewpoint. As I graduate, I hope future Jewish students can engage with other communities at the Cross Cultural Center to widen their world views. I want non-Jewish students to understand Jewish and Israeli students’ diverse perspectives about Israel and the conflict. Most importantly, I want Jewish students to step onto campus each day and feel confident that they will be unconditionally welcomed everywhere.

Originally published in The Algemeiner.

Contributed by 2019-2020 University of California – Davis CAMERA Fellow Jacob Greenstein.

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