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A University of San Diego professor and her students have raised eyebrows in the pro-Israel community after they led a protest this week against anti-Muslim rhetoric by wearing yellow Jewish star badges like those used by the Nazi regime during the Holocaust.
Bahar Davary, an Iranian-American associate professor of theology and religious studies at the school, held the protest with her students on Thursday, according to university officials.
While advocating against what they said is a growing trend in anti-Muslim rhetoric, the professor and students wore Jewish stars inscribed with the word, “Muslim.”
The accessory was deemed insensitive and off base among some in the pro-Israel world and has prompted Davary to defend her decision.
At least 100 students and faculty members on campus have been seen sporting the yellow star badges, according to local reports on the protest.
Davary defended her decision to use the yellow badge, saying through a university spokeswoman that it was not meant to draw an analogy between the Holocaust and the current atmosphere Muslims face.
“This is a class/campus project to raise awareness against Islamophobia,” Davary said. “It is not intended to make an analogy between the current situation of Muslims in the U.S. to that of Jews in Germany and wider Europe before the Shoah [Holocaust].”
“The idea was discussed in my classes of doing a project to start a campus conversation about the anti-Muslim rhetoric rising all around us,” Davary explained.
The protest, which was meant as a “learning tool” for students, was not aimed at diminishing the plight of more than six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust, the professor said.
“We realize that it is a stark symbol that carries a lot of weight and meaning today not only for Jews but for humanity,” Davary said. “That is as it should be, if we are to learn anything from our collective history. The yellow Star of David with the word Muslim written on it is a symbol that my students and I wear with utmost respect for the memory of the Jewish lives lost.”
She and her students wore the yellow star “in sympathy with those who lived through the tragedy and survived, and those who still bear the painful memory.”
The goal was to raise awareness to the dangers of “marking any group of people as the ‘other,’” she said.
However, some said that use of the image comes off as insensitive and promotes flawed thinking about the current situation of Muslims and those Jews who experienced the Holocaust.
Jacob Baime, executive director at the Israel on Campus Coalition, an advocacy group that defends the Jewish state on college campuses, slammed the demonstration as highly offensive.
"This incident reflects cultural appropriation at its worst,” Baime said. “The industrial slaughter of 6 million innocent Jews by the Nazis is unique in human history. Any serious professor would have the decency to respect the memory of the victims."
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, an organization that combats anti-Semitism, said, “the imagery is off.”
While Cooper understands and agrees with the need to fight anti-Muslim attitudes, he told the Washington Free Beacon that the yellow star badge is “not what I would have chosen” to address the issue.
“When we talk about the yellow star, let’s remember who instituted it,” he said. “You had to wear it under penalty of death.”
While the Jews of Europe “constituted no threat whatsoever to the German state” in the 1930s, the subject of radical terrorism is real, he said.
“When you invoke that symbol you have to also not just use it superficially,” Cooper added, noting that, unlike Muslims in America, Jews of Europe were given no choice. “It wasn’t any crime anyone was guilty of. It was the accident of their birth.”