A University of San Diego professor's protest against discrimination toward Muslims resulted in a campus controversy when she and students wore yellow stars similar to those Jews were forced to wear in Nazi Germany and Europe before the Holocaust.
Representatives of various Jewish groups have called the protest an inappropriate use of a hurtful image that should not be misappropriated.
"While the intentions may have been very good, the appropriation of a symbol that carries so much weight in the Jewish community was not a good choice," said Michael Rabkin, executive director of Hillel of San Diego.
The yellow, six-pointed Star of David symbol resemble the stars worn by Jews under Nazi rule, but feature a crescent moon and the word "Muslim."
Rabkin said he was pleased that the school issued an apology and said he has reached out to the private Catholic schools to consider opening a USD chapter of Hillel, a Jewish campus organizations already at San Diego State University and UC San Diego.
A statement on the university's Facebook page stated that the exercise in professor Bahar Davary's class was meant to raise awareness about Islamophobia and 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 Holocaust."
The statement concluded by saying, "The project's the symbol was an attempt to demonstrate solidarity among Muslims, Jews and Christian. Professor Bahar Davary regrets any misunderstandings that may have resulted from this class project."
The USD communications office also reported the professor has no interest in using the stars for future protests.
Several people who responded to the post said the statement did not go far enough.
"Disgusting behavior by Bahar Davary and your university!" wrote Karen Waters Waas. "We know the Iranian 'professors' true intent! The amount of bad press you receive will continue until an apology is publicly stated! All alumni will be alerted and donations will cease because of your own mishandling of this overtly anti-Semitic behavior."
Other posts called for Davary to be fired, and one referred to her as "a professor from Iran that has brought her hate to America to promote it to her students."
In a Times of San Diego article published before the controversy, Davary said she came up with the idea as a project in her class, "Islamic Faith and Practice." She also was quoted as saying the stars symbolized that there have people throughout history who were made to feel like "the other."
According to the Dec. 17 article, Davary estimated that more than 100 people, including students and faculty members, were wearing the stars.
A backlash to the protest was prompt.
In about two dozen comments to the article, readers called Davary insensitive, racist and ignorant, and the exercise was called appalling and shameful.
Davary could not be reached by the Union-Tribune for comment during the winter break at USD, but she did respond to criticism of the protest on her own Facebook page.
"It is a stark symbol," she wrote. "My students and I wear it in memorial of the Jewish lives lost and in the hope to avoid causing harm to another religious/ethnic group."
She also wrote that the symbol was worn "to respect and protect, as the people of Denmark did when Jews were forced to wear it."
Criticism of the exercise reached beyond the local Times of San Diego site and Davary's Facebook page.
The Los Angeles-based pro-Israel education and advocacy organization StandWithUs condemned the exercise in a Dec. 20 post.
"While protests against anti-Muslim bigotry are understandable and legitimate, using the Holocaust in this inappropriate and shocking way serves to trivialize and deny meaning to the unspeakable horrors that Jews suffered at the hands of Nazi Germany," the site quoted StandWithUs San Diego Director Sara Schoonmaker as saying. "We call on Professor Davary and others at the University of San Diego to exercise far more sensitivity and better judgment going forward."
The conservative website Washington Free Beacon reported on the controversy and quoted Jacob Baime, executive director of the Israel on Campus Coalition, as saying the exercise was "cultural appropriation at its worst." He also said any "serious professor" would have the decency to respect the memory of 6 million Jewish victims killed by the Nazis.
Locally, Rabkin was more forgiving of the school, and said he planned to reach out to Jewish students on campus after the winter break to gauge their reaction to the controversy.
Tammy Gillies, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League in San Diego, said she was pleased with how the university responded.
"They've taken responsibility and they understand the sensitivity around it, and they're working with the professor to correct that," she said.
"I think this could really be a learning opportunity for the university," she said, adding that she did not think there was malicious intent in using the star.
Gillies called anti-Muslim rhetoric unacceptable, and she said she would support working with the school on responding to it in ways that do not hurt other groups of people.