While Jews understandably focus on how they are treated on college campuses, it should come as no surprise that Arab and Muslim students also have concerns about how students, faculty and administrators treat them.
A 2010 report on the religious or spiritual preferences of students across the UC system found that only 3% out of more than 61,000 respondents identified as Jews, and an even smaller percentage (1.5%) identified as Muslims. Still, of the 10 schools with the most anti-Israel incidents last year, four were University of California campuses (UCLA, Berkeley, Riverside and UC San Diego). Interestingly, the Muslim Public Affairs Committee (MPAC) conducted a study of Muslim/Arab student opinion at six UC campuses and found that Muslim students have similar complaints to those of Jews.
Just so everyone understands where MPAC is coming from, this is a group founded in 1988 that bills itself as "a public service agency working for the civil rights of American Muslims, for the integration of Islam into American pluralism, and for a positive, constructive relationship between American Muslims and their representatives." One of its advisers, Maher Hathout, exemplified how these values are applied when he said that Arab governments that meet with Israelis would be "flushed down in the cesspools of history of treason," compared Israel to segregated South Africa and said that Arabs have to "throw a bomb in a market or send somebody to suicide" because they don't have the "ability to target real targets in Israel." The group also has often been an apologist for terror attacks, as in 2001, when a suicide bomber blew up a Jerusalem pizzeria and MPAC blamed Israeli policy, or when it referred to the 1983 bombing of the American Marine barracks in Beirut by Hizballah terrorists as a "military operation.”
Predictably, the respondents to the MPAC survey listed a litany of complaints about how they are treated on campus. For example, 54% who said they were involved in a Muslim group reported they faced intimidation, and many complained that the administration was unresponsive. Many in the small sample of 136 students were unhappy with the UC President's commitment to fight anti-Semitism without making a similar pledge to counter "Islamophobia" and anti-Arab sentiment on campus. The Muslim students also expressed anger toward former Muslims who were now critics of Islam. Despite the concerns, more than 80% of Muslim students said they felt safe and welcome most or all of the time on campus.
What was especially interesting were some of the comments Arab and Muslim students made about Israel and its supporters. Two students, for example, said they faced no intimidation, "but we do a good job of intimidating Jews and Christians who support Israel." Another said "The UC system favors Muslims and Arabs and quietly works against Jews and Israel supporters."
The University of California also solicited a report on the treatment of Arab and Muslims students: "Muslim & Arab Student Campus Climate at the University of California Fact-Finding Team Report & Recommendations." Much of the report echoes the complaints found in the MPAC report and, interestingly, some of their recommendations mirror AICE's with regard to the importance of faculty, calling for the "recruitment and retention of Muslim and Arab faculty, particularly faculty with a research background in Islamic studies." The report also said "campuses should work to create a major and/or minor in Islamic Studies."
The UC report also shared AICE’s conclusion that the route to improving understanding on campus was not through the student body but primarily through the faculty and research. The bottom line, at least in the UC system, is that both Jews and Muslims feel mistreated and both hope to build up academic programs to meet their educational needs. Both are justified; however, the danger for students is that new programs in Middle East or Islamic studies will be as propagandistic and anti-Israel as many of the existing ones already at UCs and other universities.
Mitchell Bard writes for the Jerusalem Post and is the author of The Arab Lobby: The Invisible Alliance That Undermines America's Interests in the Middle East (HarperCollins) and Israel Matters (Behrman House).