The editorial board of Al-Talib, the Muslim Newsmagazine at UCLA, called on Jewish student Avinoam Baral to disassociate himself from the pro-Israel program Hasbara Fellowships due to the group's alleged Islamophobia. Al-Talib alleged that the Jewish program "actively (contributes) to violence against Muslims" and asked that Baral, who is a candidate for Internal Vice President in upcoming UCLA student elections, separate himself from the program.
The newsmagazine asked that Baral "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."
TruthRevolt asked Ibrahim Hooper, the Communications Director for the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), whether or not the organization approved of the editorial's request, to which Hooper replied, "Your apparent hostility to Islam and Muslims seems to have you grasping at straws."
As TruthRevolt reported on Wednesday evening, a number candidates for UCLA student government were asked to sign an "ethics statement" prohibiting trips to Israel with Hasbara Fellowships, AIPAC and the ADL. StandWithUs Executive Director Roz Rothstein labeled the attempt "bigoted" and Israel on Campus Coalition Executive Director Jacob Baime hoped that students on campus would "not be intimidated by closed-minded zealots with their heads in the sand."
Elliot Mathias, Executive Director of Hasbara Fellowships, told TruthRevolt that he took issue with the targeting of Jewish students and the malicious lies against the Jewish state:
The fact that these groups are only targeting Jewish/pro-Israel organizations that offer subsidized educational programs shows that they are not interested in advocating for transparency or fairness on the UCLA student government. They are only advocating for the targeting of Jewish/pro-Israel students and organizations which is a racist stance that unfortunately patterns their past behavior in demonizing Israel and its supporters on the UCLA campus. They simply want to shut down voices they disagree with.
Al-Talib made three assertions in an attempt to indict both Baral and the program. First, the newsmagazine alleged that "Baral’s involvement in Hasbara Fellowships is problematic because it marginalizes Muslim students on campus" and that "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."
The Muslim paper then contended that "Hasbara Fellowships has promoted Islamophobic materials and documentaries" and cited the movies “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.” Al-Talib claimed that "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."
In 2008, CAIR called Obession: Radical Islam's War with the West "anti-Muslim" and involved the Federal Election Committee (FEC) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in challenging the financial ties between the Clarion Fund and Aish Hatorah:
The student publication then clarified that "this is NOT to say that Baral is an Islamophobe" but that "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" and "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."
Al-Talib concluded by declaring that "this is a universal standard - connections to hate speech against any group should be denounced" and that "today, demonization of Muslims is one form of bigotry that is still widely accepted in our social structure."
The newsmagazine attempted to clarify that their objection was not against all pro-Israel individuals and organizations, but Baral alone due to his ties with Hasbara Fellowships:
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.
Mathias blasted the newsmagazine's characterization of Hasbara Fellowships via email late Wednesday evening:
It seems that these groups label any person or organization that is concerned with global terrorism stemming from identified Islamist terror organizations as Islamophobes. What this really shows is that these groups want to defend terrorist organizations and that they are will disparage anyone who disagrees with them. It is sad that they have reverted to intimidation and harassment of UCLA students who genuinely want to make their University a better place.
According to the group's website, "Hasbara Fellowships is a leading pro-Israel campus activism organization working with over 80 Universities across North America. Hasbara Fellowships, a program spearheaded by Aish International since 2001, brings hundreds of students to Israel every summer and winter, giving them the information and tools to return to their campuses as educators about Israel." Hasbara Fellowship programs include trips to Israel, "Israel Peace Week," and a "Teach Kids Peace" initiative.
Ironically, the Al-Talib website features an editorial in favor of the anti-Semitic Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.