The Al-Talib editorial board calls on Avinoam Baral, the Bruins United candidate for Internal Vice President (IVP), to publicly distance himself from the organization Hasbara Fellowships because of its association with the production and dissemination of Islamophobic documentaries across the United States. Unless Baral distances himself from an organization that disseminates Islamophobia, ties to anti-Muslim networks will remain accepted in campus life and politics. In what follows, we review the facts of this issue and provide our commentary:
1. Baral’s involvement in Hasbara Fellowships is problematic because it marginalizes Muslim students on campus.
In a Daily Bruin article published May 6th, Baral said he participated in Hasbara Fellowships, a nationwide pro-Israel advocacy program for students on campus. Baral’s relationship to the program is therefore not in question.
If elected for the position of IVP, it would be Baral’s responsibility to represent ALL members of the student body. If elected without distancing himself from an Islamophobic organization, we do not feel Baral would be able to adequately represent the Muslim community on campus.
2. Hasbara Fellowships has promoted Islamophobic materials and documentaries.
On its website, Hasbara Fellowships has promoted Islamophobic documentaries such as “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War with the West,” “The Third Jihad: Radical Islam’s Vision for America,” and “Crossing the Line: The Intifada Comes to Campus” (1). A quick review of these works will show that they fulfill many or all of the criteria of Islamophobia, and at a basic level, are designed to stoke fear of Muslims as a homogenous and dangerous group. The nationwide eruption of violence and threats to the Muslim community after the free mass distribution of Obsession clearly shows how harmful and real this issue is to our community (2).
This is NOT to say that Baral is an Islamophobe. This IS to say that if Baral does not share those Islamophobic beliefs, he should find it easy to distance himself from organizations that actively contribute to violence against Muslims. That is the only way to provide a measure of reassurance for Muslim students that the Islamophobic message produced by these organizations will not be legitimized should he be elected to office.
3. This is a universal standard – connections to hate speech against any group should be denounced
While at times the university may seem disconnected from the world, issues like this reveal the ways in which UCLA reflects society at large. If the campus would be outraged at a candidate’s connection to homophobic groups, anti-Black organizations, or any other type of hate, but takes no issue with connections to anti-Muslim hate speech, then what statement does this make about our university?
Today, demonization of Muslims is one form of bigotry that is still widely accepted in our social structure. If the student body allows a candidate to enter elected office without first distancing himself from these connections, then it will send a clear message to Muslims on this campus and the nation: it is acceptable for an elected official to be tied to Islamophobia.
To be abundantly clear: It is okay to be pro-Israel and on USAC, but it is not okay to be connected to any form of bigotry and on USAC. There are other pro-Israel candidates running for office this spring who do not have Islamophobic ties. The fact that their campaigns are not in question shows that this is not about being pro-Israel or pro-Palestine. This is about the continuing effect of Islamophobia on our communities and on our campus, and what it says about our student body’s blind-spots to certain forms of oppression and bigotry.
In writing this, we could not shake the feeling of deep dismay that this editorial was even necessary. How is hate against our community still acceptable, and how does it still go unchallenged on a supposedly progressive, supposedly inclusive, supposedly tolerant campus?
Note: We believe Baral’s response to date has been inadequate, primarily relying on citations of prior work with the Muslim Student Association (MSA) on the halal-kosher initiative for dining halls. This line of reasoning is more than tokenizing – it insults Muslim students on campus because it insinuates that support for halal food immunizes one from any form of Islamophobia. We have not forgotten that Baral was the chief of staff of the Internal Vice President’s office when it failed, earlier this year, to endorse an MSA press release denouncing Islamophobia. Thus, supporting halal food options in no way provides an adequate response to the issues raised.
(1) Here is a link to Hasbara Fellowships’ promotion of “Obsession,” here is a link to Hasbara Fellowships’ promotion of “The Third Jihad,” and here is a link to Hasbara Fellowships’ promotion of “Crossing the Line.”
(2) It is also worth noting that Hasbara Fellowships is run by a group called Aish International, which is an international outreach organization. Among Aish’s many activities (many of which have no bearing on this issue), it contributes to the network of Islamophobia that has so affected our society in recent years.