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Student troubles

by: Victor Garcia - Last updated: 2004-02-27

Isaiah Perez

Isaiah Perez photo by: Christopher Wong

The US-based Jewish Defense League wants a Californian student punished for alleged anti-Semitism.

However, the Bakersfield College student, Isaiah Perez, president of the Democratic Club, who says he is of Jewish descent, maintains he is not anti-Semitic but is politically opposed to the government of Israel.

According to Perez, he wore a small replica of the Israeli flag, with the Star of David crossed out and the word Israel on it crossed out around his neck on campus for one day about five months ago.

The replica, which was worn vertically, measures 11 by 15 inches, with a blue cord around the top. It is identical to the Israeli flag, except that it has a darker shade of blue and the word "Israel" is printed on it in capital letters.

Perez said that he crossed out the word Israel and the Star of David with strips of red paper.

He said no one would have complained had he worn any other nation's flag around his neck.

"Had I worn a Turkish flag crossed out, I would not have had one complaint. ... Once again, I am not being down on Jews but we even have a special name for people who dislike Jews, anti-Semitism. I am not anti-Semitic but I am saying we hold them to like a higher standard. ... If you dislike Saudi Arabia, oh, well, that's OK, but if you dislike Israel, oh, you're anti-Semitic, and I think that is just ridiculous," he said.

The Jewish Defense League received a complaint about the matter on Feb. 5

Shelley Rubin, assistant director of the JDL office in Los Angeles, said in a telephone interview that the student who filed the complaint said that the student was persecuted for pro-Zionist beliefs and that the head of the Democratic Club wore a sign that had the Star of David crossed out to one of the student's classes.

In the interview, Rubin referred to the student as "he/she" and declined to give a name.

Rubin sent an e-mail to BC President Dr. Sandra Serrano about the matter on Feb. 11, in which Rubin accused Perez of promoting anti-Semitism.

"We would never think of doing anything like that against Muslims, who we have a problem with, but we would never take their crescent and star and put a slash through it. That's racist. That's religious hatred," said Rubin. "Religious intolerance is very wrong and it should not be allowed to happen on the Bakersfield College campus or any college campus in America for that matter."

Perez said that he objects to the politics of the Israeli government, but is not anti-Semitic.

"This article (JDL letter) is completely ridiculous," he said. "I have a Star of David on my chest. I have Hebrew writing on my chest. Jesus was a Jew. I am a Christian. I have no anti-Semitic feelings whatsoever."

But Rubin said she does not care whether Perez has a tattoo of the Star of David on his chest.

"The way that Mr. Perez has acted, I don't care if he tattoos the Star of David on his forehead. There's a right way to act and there's a wrong way and if he's threatening other students because they are Zionist and he is not, then we've got a problem with Mr. Perez," Rubin said.

She said she did not contact Perez before e-mailing Serrano.

"I wanted as much information about him but I don't feel that we have any room for discussion with a Jew-hater," said Rubin. "JDL does not sit and talk to Nazis about why they hate Jews. We deal with them in other ways. We don't have anything to say to Perez. We do have something to say to administration who may not have been aware that this was going on, but we believe that if a club at a university or college is backing anti-Jewish rhetoric and is in its propaganda is fomenting Jew-hatred on the campus, that charter should be pulled and Mr. Perez should be shown the door out of that college."

Perez responded that he is anti-Israel but not anti-Jewish.

"Israel occupies one-third of 1 percent of the land in the Middle East and they have the fifth largest military in the world," said Perez. "I think their aggressive actions towards their Muslim neighbors is just ridiculous. I have no idea why Ariel Sharon has not been tried in an international court and sentenced to death for what they did in Beirut in the '80s."

Yet he maintains he has never tolerated violence against Jews.

"I have never tolerated Arab/Muslim violence against Jews, especially the way they have done it," he said.

Perez said people need to focus on Israeli politics.

"The point I will say is that we need to start asking the question, what is Israel doing that would compel people to strap bombs onto themselves and walk onto buses and blow people up?" he asked.

The student who filed the complaint with JDL claims that the Democratic Club supports Perez's actions, according to Rubin.

"This person's outraged how an entire club could support such anti-Semitic propaganda," she said.

Helen Acosta, adviser of the club, said that the club "knew nothing about it."

She described the controversy as a "horrible misunderstanding."

President Dr. Sandra Serrano's office referred questions on the controversy to Dean of Students Beto Gonzalez, who said that it is a free speech issue.

"The student has clearly stated that he did not intend to offend any group on campus and it is our understanding that the student is actually of Jewish descent and certainly did not mean to offend Jewish students on campus, but he was just simply expressing his feelings on certain matters, which he has the right to do," he said.

The education code states that students have a right to express their political beliefs on campus, Gonzalez explained.

"If a student wants to wear an insignia or a button, one is free to do so, so long as far as it doesn't cause, let's say a riot."

He added that free speech issues come up all the time.

"It is the college's desire that we address these matters immediately because we are here to serve all students and our intent is to provide a sound learning climate for all students at Bakersfield College," he said.

Victor Garcia is Editor in Chief of The Renegade Rip
This article first published in The Renegade Rip