UCSB Groups Tackle Peace in the Middle East

Hate Crimes Spark Further Debate over the Israel-Palestine Conflict


Madeleine Lee
Staff Writer

Daniel Mogtaderi was peacefully protesting in the Arbor against the alleged murder of a 13-year-old Palestinian child when an unnamed passerby incited an argument denying the child’s murder, grabbed Mogtaderi’s phone and assaulted him.

“He was calling this thirteen-year-old child, left to bleed out in the middle of the street, a terrorist,” Mogtaderi said. “I told him he advocated for the death of children. He refused to talk anymore and grabbed my arm several times, trying to shove me off to take my phone.”

The child, Ahmad Manasra, is now believed to be an accomplice in the stabbing of two Israeli men and has, in the two weeks since the stabbing overseas and Mogtaderi’s assault 7,500 miles away in the Arbor, been indicted for attempted murder.

Evidently, Mogtaderi was wrong about the boy’s death. In the Students for Justice in Palestine sponsored protest against the dozens of Palestinian children killed in the last month, Mogtaderi and his fellow SJP members wrongly included Manasra among the dead, having yet to read the sources confirming the child’s recovery.

The unnamed assailant, however, is not absolved. The altercation, which was caught on camera by Mogtaderi himself, reveals the growing shadow of tension that has, within the last several years, begun to pollute an otherwise sunny campus climate.

The decades long conflict between Israel and Palestine has come to a head within the University of California as shocking reports of hostility and discrimination overseas are echoed on almost all UC campuses. Incidents of physical and verbal abuse, which happen now with newfound frequency, affect supporters of both the pro-Palestine minority and pro-Israel majority groups.

It was only this past week on Mon., Oct. 26 at an open forum with the UC Regents that Rabbi Evan Goodman, executive director of the Santa Barbara Hillel, presented his statement on anti-semitism policies in the UC system. In it, he profiled the verbal attack of an Associated Students senator as she voiced her opinions against UCSB’s proposed divestment last spring, and the lack of a sufficient community response to the anti-Semitic remarks.

“I urge the Regents to adopt a clear, system-wide definition of anti-semitism,” Goodman said on Monday, “including some version of the three D’s, with explicit policies and procedures that protect Jewish students in the UC System from experiencing a hostile environment.”

Goodman hopes that the UC Regents act quickly to keep Jewish students from falling victim to further anti-semitic rhetoric, behavior and propaganda that continues to emerge without adequate consequence.

“What’s being tolerated to happen to Jewish students is not being tolerated for any other minority group,” Goodman said. “It’s not that Jews deserve protection above others, it’s that Jews deserve protection just like others.”

The recent flurry of anti-semitic events includes minor offenses, such as swastikas plastered on cars, and more publicized incidents, like the UCLA response to Jewish student Rachel Beyda’s interest in running for a position on the student Judicial Board. Discrimination against the group is partly, as Rabbi Evan agrees, a consequence of the cross-campus battle over divestment.

Students Supporting Israel (SSI) is a grassroots, student-funded and student-run organization founded by and second year biology major Ariel Dankner and an anonymous third year student, that takes a different stance than that of members of the Hillel or those affiliated with Students for Justice in Palestine. In the eye of a political storm, the members of SSI support Israel and are against BDS. However, they do not take a stance on the political situation within the State of Israel and its government, according to the club’s founder.

“We aren’t saying that divestment isn’t an important issue,” Danker said. “We just acknowledge the fact that the conflict overseas is something we can discuss, but can’t control. What we can control are the connections between individuals and cultures on our own campus.”

In addition to supporting Israel and standing against BDS, SSI seeks to celebrate the cultures of not only Israel, but all of the Middle East, with plans to ally with Lebanese, Persian and other Middle Eastern groups on campus for future cultural awareness events.

The founder of the club, who spent a voluntary year and a half in Israel’s Defense Force, openly respects the opinions of supporters on both sides of the issue, finding it necessary to reach out and include individuals of all races and faiths who may not align with pro-Israel sentiments.

“Israel is in our title,” they said, “but Israel is only a small part of the wider culture that is the Middle East. As a group, we want to include and celebrate everyone involved. Even if we don’t agree politically, we can still connect by sharing our cultural dialogue with everyone else on campus.”

Even though SSI’s efforts to be both culturally aware and politically neutral are well-intended, they still fail to provide a realistic solution to the ongoing campus conflict, according to one Palestinian UCSB student, who preferred to remain anonymous.

Mogtaderi, who agrees with the anonymous student’s response, spoke of SSI’s presence at the same protest that sparked Mogtaderi’s assault by the unnamed, unaffiliated student.

“We had members of the Students Supporting Israel group come up to our signs and say ‘Why do you have to bring this here?'” Mogtaderi said. “‘Why can’t we just all get along?’ They’re not interested in talking about these issues. They’re interested in restricting the dialogue.”

Mogtaderi and fellow SJP members worry that SSI’s move to remove politics from the dialogue censors the discussion of what is personal as well, as SJP members remain unable to disregard the deaths of family members overseas that are a tragic consequence of political turmoil.

“Her tuition money goes to support apartheid,” Mogtaderi said during the interview, as he pointed in the direction of the anonymous Palestinian student. “How dare they tell us not to bring it here when it’s already here and they’re a part of it!”

The answer is, of course, a difficult one to find. In the meantime, all three groups — Santa Barbara Hillel, SSI and SJP — are united by their mutual belief in the importance of education.

The Santa Barbara Hillel sponsors a number of community-oriented events and speakers to build bridges between all races and faiths in the Isla Vista community. Students Supporting Israel, in their short five-week tenure, have already sponsored a temporary “Peace in the Middle East” mural in front of the Student Resource Building to spark discussion and awareness of conflict. Students for Justice in Palestine continues to raise awareness through peaceful protests, and their upcoming Palestinian Culture Week to be held Nov. 2-5.

Mogtaderi, who is now fully recovered from the migraines and back pain incurred by the assault, is still negotiating the legal process with lawyers and law enforcement. He continues to stand with SJP to spread awareness of the conflict in Palestine.

The anonymous Palestinian student, whose story is one of many motivating Mogtaderi and fellow SJP members, hopes to visit Palestine for the first time this upcoming summer. Her parents, both from Palestine, came to the United States as refugees. At 20 years old, she has never met a single member of her extended family.

Update on Nov. 4 at 2:25 PM: This article has been edited to reflect more accurate information.