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Jewish Student’s Diploma Withheld Over Run-in With ‘Antisemitic’ Poster

By Peter Cordi | Washington Examiner | June 13, 2024



EXCLUSIVE — A Jewish student at the University of California, Irvine, is having his diploma withheld over claims he stole or damaged a poster that was part of the school’s anti-Israel encampment.


Alex Minn, 33, was delivered a sanction letter demanding that he write a 1,250-word essay admitting to and apologizing for conduct he denies, including theft or damaging university or student property and failure to comply. If he doesn’t write the essay, he will not receive his diploma. With pro bono help from attorney John Vaughan, Minn is appealing the decision.


“The only thing I’m guilty of is not understanding that the student conduct policies apply more stringently towards Jewish students,” Minn said in an interview with the Washington Examiner.


The ‘traumatic’ encounter with an ‘antisemitic’ poster

Minn was walking on campus on May 7, as he does every Tuesday after dropping his two children off at school, when the incident occurred, according to Minn. iPhone health data obtained by the Washington Examiner confirm this walking pattern. Minn said he was walking near the encampment when he encountered the poster by his head at eye level, so he “swatted” at it “like you would swat a horse fly” in your face.


The poster contained a hand-drawn caricature of a “hook-nose Jew” wearing a shtreimel and payos, holding a bloody knife over the Palestinian flag, with blood flowing from the Israeli flag to the Palestinian flag, and displayed the phrase, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” 


No students claimed the poster or filed a report, and Minn said the anti-Israel encampment “organizers” declined to press charges. Associate Dean of Students Ellen Whitehead witnessed the incident and is listed as Witness 1 on the May 21 sanction letter obtained by the Washington Examiner.


According to footage of the encounter and Whitehead’s written testimony, both obtained by the Washington Examiner, Dean of Students Rameen Talesh was also present for part of the encounter, including when Minn temporarily refused to identify himself, which prompted the “failure to comply” charge. Talesh was recorded telling Minn to “have some self-discipline” upon encountering signs like the one in question.


Minn admitted he initially did not identify himself because, in California, a civilian is allowed to deny a police officer’s request for identification. He said he was unaware that on campus, students must present identification if asked. After about 20 minutes, he was shown the rule in the code of conduct stating he must show ID, and then he apologized and presented his ID. The police report obtained by the Washington Examiner states Minn “apologized and said he was remorseful that his actions led to a report having to be filed.”


According to the police report and Whitehead’s testimony, Minn grabbed the poster and “dropped it” near Croul Hall. However, he says he swatted it. Trevor Roth, who was walking with Minn at the time and was the nearest witness to the incident, said Minn came into contact with the poster “in an unintended motion; it was definitely at eye level” and noted that Minn’s hand got stuck to blue painter’s tape on the sign, which may have given the appearance from afar that he grabbed it.


The Washington Examiner reached out to Whitehead, Talesh, and both responding UC Irvine police officers for comment.


This means ‘lawfare’

Vaughan, Minn’s attorney, characterized the charges as “lawfare” against the Jewish student, as he believes contacting a sign, which ostensibly violates student conduct and was on an encampment that was also in violation of student conduct, does not constitute a violation on Minn’s part. He pointed out the “double standard” that Minn had to present his ID but that encampment protesters were allowed to hide in tents and mask their faces.

He also noted a possible “conflict of interest” in Talesh being both a witness and the one overseeing the appeal, as “the judge cannot be the witness against you.” He said the essay Minn is required to write is “compelled speech” and a violation of his First Amendment rights.


Vaughan said that if Minn’s record is not expunged, that would “absolutely” merit a Title VI lawsuit as it could have lasting damage on Minn, who earned magna cum laude honors, and his ability to pass the bar exam someday.


Alleged antisemitism on UC Irvine’s campus is not new, as Minn has made several attempts to file complaints regarding anti-Jewish “violence and harassment” in the past, according to communications reviewed by the Washington Examiner between Minn and UC Irvine Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity investigator Anh Pham. Just last week, flyers were “plastered” around campus accusing Jeffrey Kopstein, director of the school’s Center for Jewish Studies, of “actively funding Israeli genocide.”


Citing privacy laws, Michael Uhlenkamp, assistant vice chancellor of communications and media relations at UC Irvine, declined to comment on the specifics of Minn’s case. “UC Irvine is committed to fostering an environment of civility and mutual respect where all members of the campus community can express differing viewpoints,” he added.


While Minn awaits a decision from the university on his appeal, an international organization that supports Israel and fights antisemitism, StandWithUs, penned a May 30 letter to the school, obtained by the Washington Examiner, requesting all charges be dismissed. The group additionally expressed concern over the requirement to write an essay “admitting to a crime he did not commit.”


As a Jewish student with family members who died in the Holocaust, Minn called the encounter and subsequent appeals process “traumatic” but said that “going through this experience has inspired me to continue to pursue my journey of becoming an attorney so that I can use these experiences for others.”


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