AirTalk: Forum examines Jewish and Muslim student relations

Participating panelists, from left to right, David Lehrer, Salam Al-Marayati, Omar Zarka and Isaac Yerushalmi.
Participating panelists, from left to right, David Lehrer, Salam Al-Marayati, Omar Zarka and Isaac Yerushalmi. Roy Lenn/KPCC

In February, Muslim students staged a protest against a visit by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren to the campus of the University of California at Irvine. The students shouted down the Ambassador as he gave a speech. Several students were arrested.

Monday evening on AirTalk, Larry Mantle hosted a forum to discuss how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict impacts relations among members of the Jewish and Muslim communities of Southern California, especially on college campuses. The forum was held at the Julianne Argyros Theatre at South Coast Rep in Costa Mesa.

The AirTalk program, which hoped to uncover the reasons for the protest and resulting tensions, was civil but fraught with emotion.

Isaac Yerushalmi, former president of Anteaters for Israel, a pro-Israel group at UCI, spoke about his parents and how they were "ethnically cleansed" from Egypt and Iran.

Omar Zarka, recent graduate of UCI and former President of the Muslim Student Union, recalled the story of a student friend of his whose uncle’s face was blown off during the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The panel also included David A. Lehrer, President of Community Advocates Inc. and Salam Al-Marayati, Executive Director and co-founder, Muslim Public Affairs Council.

Lehrer focused on the incident with Ambassador Oren, and what he saw as the lack of civility from the Muslim Student Union and how that makes progress in relations impossible. But Zarka and Al-Marayati insisted there’s a double-standard — that Muslim students were arrested for staging that protest, even though their behavior was comparable to the heckling done by non-Muslim students against Karl Rove and other visiting speakers.

The debate, while respectful, seemed to expose little ground for cooperation between the two groups, at least at the university in Irvine. At one point, Yerushalmi and Zarka disagreed about the proper form for an initial meeting: a social barbeque or a structured political debate.

Host Larry Mantle said they needed to do both. But neither side seized on the idea. The show was followed up with an extensive question and answers session. Visit the AirTalk page for the full debate.

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