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‘Cockroach’ as anti-Arab Slur and other Narrative Creations

Two Claremont Colleges conducted investigations: Pitzer exonerated its Students for Justice in Palestine members and pilloried a Jewish Israeli faculty member from the other school, while Claremont Mckenna found the Pitzer students and the faculty member behaved poorly.

Najib Hamideh and other Students for Justice in Palestine bar students entry to Claremont McKenna College cafeteria in "Israeli checkpoint street theater demonstration," March 4, 2013

Najib Hamideh and other Students for Justice in Palestine bar students entry to Claremont McKenna College cafeteria in "Israeli checkpoint street theater demonstration," March 4, 2013

But there are other parts of the Segal/SJP narrative that are difficult to accept.

First, is is difficult to believe that Hamideh left the demonstration and went after Raviv as he approached the public safety officer because, as he claimed, it was after 5:00 and Hamideh did not recognize Raviv and wanted to make sure he was someone allowed to be on campus.  First, the incident took place at CMC and Hamideh is not a CMC student, so it is not surprising that Hamideh did not recognize him. More importantly, why would Hamideh consider it his responsibility to determine whether Raviv should be present at CMC, given that Raviv was at that very moment approaching a Claremont public safety officer?

Secondly, one of the biggest issues repeatedly made in the SJP/Segal narrative is that Raviv made a racist remark.  In an effort to show that Raviv used “cockroach” because it is a racist slur against Arab Palestinians, the advocates of this theory had to go back to 1982 to find a time when an Israeli used the term to refer to Arabs.  One example.  From more than 30 years ago.

Perhaps more importantly, while Raviv’s background is obvious as soon as he opens his mouth – his Israeli accent is very strong – Hamideh neither looks Middle Eastern nor has any accent. Raviv claims he had no idea the student was anything but American.

Further to this point, in his original description of what Raviv said, Hamideh claimed Raviv also referred to all Pitzer students as cockroaches.  If that is the case, and since only a tiny percentage of Pitzer students are of Arab descent, then Raviv certainly was not using the term cockroach as a negative term for Arab Palestinians.

Segal’s succcessful efforts to incite his colleagues against Raviv for using the word “cockroach” yielded lots of support that it is a negative term, a prominent one on the “othering” scale, but none made a connection between that term and Arab Palestinians.

Unless Raviv knew Hamideh was an Arab Palestinian, and only if the term “cockroach” was a term regularly used to refer to Arab Palestinians, Raviv’s poor judgment in cursing at a student could not rise to the level of racial harassment either under current law or in the Claremont Colleges handbook.  For Segal and the SJP students and others to repeatedly suggest otherwise is at best disingenuous, and itself might constitute slander under California law.

Segal/SJP’s effort to cast the March 4 incident as an example of an effort to deny “free speech” rights to Arab Palestinians also falls short: even the Pitzer report which found fault only with Raviv and none with SJP or Hamideh, did not find that Raviv attempted to shut down the SJP’s “street theater” demonstration. And the CMC report which found fault with both Raviv and SJP found that Raviv had not improperly interfered with the demonstration.

Finally, both Pitzer and the SJP students make much of the fact that the students met with CMC’s dean of students and obtained permission to stage the “mock Israeli checkpoint” demonstration as evidence of good faith and good performance.  But obtaining permission for the demonstration in advance does not immunize bad behavior which violates the policy at even a pre-approved demonstration.

WHO STANDS UP FOR WHOM AND WHEN

The last issue that warrants mention regarding the circumstances surrounding the March 4 SJP mock Israeli checkpoint demonstration and its aftermath has to do with who stands up for whom and when.

Although this reporter has concluded that Hamideh’s faculty advocate went beyond what was appropriate given his role, and that he affirmatively sought to influence public perception of what happened on March 4, Segal’s dedication to Hamideh’s perspective and narrative is impressive.

Sadly, the same cannot be said about the people whose experience of the SJP demonstration was so painful that several were crying and one went to seek the assistance of a Jewish Israeli professor.

Until the Jewish student contacted him, on March 4, while the SJP checkpoint demonstration was taking place, Yaron Raviv was sitting in his office grading papers.  When the student sought his help, Raviv immediately agreed to go see what was going on, but the student disappeared as Raviv approached the demonstration, too fearful to be seen with the professor.  Although that student and several other of the complainants participated in the CMC investigation, none would come forward and speak with this reporter although contact was made after the CMC investigation was completed.

About the Author: Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the US correspondent for The Jewish Press. She is a recovered lawyer who previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools.


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3 Responses to “‘Cockroach’ as anti-Arab Slur and other Narrative Creations”

  1. John Keytack says:

    The heading for this post is misleading. Calling an arab or a muslim a cockroach isn’t necessarily an anti-arab slur. The professor might have called anyone that under similar circumstances. For example, if someone from refers to Andrew Cuomo as human vermin that doesn’t mean it’s an anti-Italian or anti-Catholic slur.

  2. Lori Lowenthal Marcus says:

    That’s the point, John. It isn’t an anti-Arab slur, but the SJP students and Prof. Segal need to twist it into one in order to claim Raviv was being racist and not just inappropriate by losing his temper and cursing at a student.

  3. Chernasky says:

    The greatest pity is the craven behavior of the Jewish students who lacked the beitzim to force their way through these punks; ran to “daddy,”and then didn’t have the self respect to support him. “We were like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and appeared so to them.”

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