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Is UC Irvine safe for Jews?

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That’s the title of a cover story in this week’s L.A. Jewish Journal. There have been virtually no reports of violence at the university. But comfortable for Jews, especially those visibly pro-Israel? Well, that’s a better question, and one with no clear answer.

If you’ve been following the UCI situation at all, there’s not much new here, though writer Lisa Armony does rightfully draw attention to some of the lesser-known instances of Muslim-Jewish dialogue on the campus. 

To that end, UC Irvine’s administration is creating programs to instill values of tolerance, civility and mutual respect among all students.  On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in particular, the university has sponsored guest speaker events on both sides.

Outside the media glare, Jewish, Muslim, Christian and other students have been meeting since 2007 under the auspices of the Olive Tree Initiative (OTI). The program, launched at UCI and now spreading to other campuses, allows students to educate themselves on the history of the conflict and to challenge preconceived narratives as they address cultural and religious differences and learn principles of conflict resolution. (AFI and Hillel have official representation in OTI. MSU has said it would not send delegates in its name but has members who participate.) The program has had two interfaith trips to Israel that included visits to the Palestinian territories, and a third trip is planned for September. On these trips, faculty adviser Paula Garb said, students “shift their thinking enough that they are open to hearing other perspectives.”

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