Controversy Over Photo of A.S. Senator

    Arab Student Union and Students for Justice in Palestine member Noor El-Annan posted the photo on her personal Facebook profile Sunday night, after a friend emailed it to her. The photo showed Cohen dressed in a robe and head covering with three girls next to him; the caption alluded to his “three wives.”

    “I was offended and disgusted that someone would think that’s OK to wear to a party,” El-Annan said. “I’m all for themes, but he didn’t even acknowledge that it might offend people — something that my grandparents would have worn was funny to him.”

    SAAC co-chair Amal Dalmar said that Cohen’s actions are representative of a university-wide problem that needs to be addressed at the administrative level. Dalmar said that students from the Arab Student Union, Muslim Student Union and Students for Justice in Palestine have requested more Palestinian, Muslim and Arab representation in the form of more classes and educational programs. 

    “It’s telling of the notion that people have of Muslims in a post 9/11 climate,” Dalmar said. “Because we are in a ‘war of terror,’ people think it’s so foreign, [Muslims] are not even seen as individuals, and it’s OK because they’re not from here.”

    El-Annan and Dalmar said that they are not calling for Cohen’s resignation, but hope that SAAC’s meeting with university administration will yield action. El-Annan said that she hopes the administration issues a formal recognition of the events and sends a specific email to Muslim and Students for Justice in Palestine students to let them know them know that they are safe on campus.

    “We don’t want to be reactionary, we want administration to make changes,” Dalmar said.

    Cohen emailed the A.S. Council list-serv on Tuesday in defense of his actions. He said the photo was taken two weeks ago at a costume party and  that the outfit he is wearing is from Dubai.

    “The picture in question was with three of my friends, two of whom are Muslim,” Cohen said. 

    Cohen said that he thought nothing of the photo, but received Facebook messages a couple of days later from students, including three councilmembers and one student not on council. 

    “Most of them went behind my back and went on a rant on the A.S. Council Facebook [private group] page, making a mockery of me,” Cohen said. “I said: If anyone has a problem, they can message me and we can talk about it.”

    Cohen said that one person has agreed to meet with him and another person called him a racist. 

    According to Cohen, all three people who messaged him about the photo brought up his stance against divestment and wanted to use his current actions to impeach him from his council position. A.S. Council voted Feb. 29 against the divestment resolution calling for the University of California to divest from its shares in GE and Northrop Grumman, corporations that  manufacture materials used by the Israeli Defense Forces in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

    “I got a lot of positive feedback by the vast majority people on A.S.,” Cohen said. “There are three people trying to compel people to go against me, but it backfired.”

    Despite stating in Tuesday’s email that he would not attend Wednesday night’s A.S. Council meeting, Cohen said he planned on going to the meeting as scheduled. Cohen said that he plans to address the councilmembers who have spoken out against him.

    “I just think it’s regretful that the racist card can be thrown out so easily,” Cohen said. “Rather than debating on the issue, they threw out the racist card. It’s regretful that that happens to anyone on council. I really think we need to reach a more sober tone.”

    Cohen said that he has not removed the photo from his Facebook profile; his profile is private. 

    “I was very surprised that they went through these sort of extremes,” Cohen said. “I really think the worst thing you can call someone is a racist. I have so many Muslim friends and I come from a Muslim background myself.”

    El-Annan, who said that she has not contacted Cohen, said his actions are illustrative of Arab erasure on campus.

    “I can assume what he thinks of Arabs already, I don’t want to be in contact with him,” El-Annan said. “I would not feel comfortable being in the same room as him.”

    Dalmar compared Cohen’s photo to the Compton Cookout, as both racially charged incidents began with theme parties and racial costumes.

    “If we as a student body don’t react to events like this, anybody’s culture can be mocked and ridiculed,” Dalmar said. “People who identify as Arab have asked for him to take it down, but he hasn’t because he doesn’t understand why it’s offensive. The caption says ‘all three of his wives’ — which directly hits home with Islamophobia, by asserting that they’re womanizers, abusive to women — he’s confirming it with his words and dress.”

    Castellon said that several students have emailed him with concerns over the photo. He has since  emailed university administration and plans to meet with Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Penny Rue and Assistant Vice Chancellor for Student Life Gary Ratcliff on Monday, April 30. 

    According to Castellon, all 13 administrative members he contacted have responded and agreed to meet immediately with him and Dalmar.

    A.S. President Alyssa Wing declined to comment, citing Cohen’s actions as a “non-issue.”
    Additional reporting by Daniel Song.

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