Several groups of Berkeley Law students adopt “no Zionist speakers” rule – J.

A strong wording pro-BDS regulations adopted by a handful of student groups at Berkeley Law is quietly raising the temperature of the debate surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and prompted the dean of the law school, a progressive Zionist, to write an e-mail expressing his concern to the students.

The statement, written by Berkeley Law Students for Justice in Palestinegoes beyond the now-familiar calls for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel, promises that have become commonplace at American universities (The campus advocacy group The Amcha Initiative has identified 28 such resolutions adopted since 2021.)

Instead, in addition to supporting BDS, groups that adopt the rulebook also pledge not to invite “speakers who have expressed and continued to hold views…supporting Zionism, the state apartheid of Israel and the occupation of Palestine”.

The rule is in the interest of “protecting the safety and well-being of Palestinian students,” the provision says. As to how it will be enforced, the settlement leaves that up to each group, although “suggested strategies may include the public stipulation [each individual] the organization’s position on anti-racism and anti-settler colonialism to speakers, ensuring that speaker proposals emphasize the organization’s desire for equality and inclusion,” or “informing speakers of the objectives and values ​​of the mission of the event”.

Neither Berkeley Law Students for Justice in Palestine (BLSJP) nor any of the settlement’s adopters responded to J.’s emails seeking comment. Its title is “To include a Palestine-centric and decolonial approach to organizing club activities.”

Although the settlement was proposed to the more than 100 student and affinity groups at Berkeley Law, only nine had adopted it at the start of the week. About 1,100 students are enrolled at the prestigious law school.

Berkeley Law Students for Justice in Palestine Nonetheless celebrated what he called a “major BDS victory” in an Instagram post on Sunday, listing the groups that had adopted the measure. Among them were the Berkeley Law Muslim Student Association, the Queer Caucus, Law Students of African Descent, and Berkeley Law Women.

This is not the first time the BLSJP has made waves in protest against Israel in Berkeley.

In April 2021, the group condemned the law school’s acceptance of a major donation from pro-Israel philanthropy and demanded that the school return the money. The Helen Diller Foundation, which donates to a wide range of causes including Israel, sparked controversy years ago for donating to the right-wing Canary Mission; The BLSJP said the foundation gave to causes that spread “Islamophobic hatred.”

The foundation’s $10 million donation to a Center for Jewish and Israel Studies housed at the law school was announced in February 2021 and with it, the law school changed the name of the center to the Helen Diller Institute of Jewish law and Israeli studies. Berkeley Law dean Erwin Chemerinsky defended the decision at the time, saying the university appreciated its partnership with the Dillers and the gift “aligned[ed] with the values ​​of the law school.

The passage of the new regulations comes as American universities continue to face lawsuits and administrative complaints — mostly filed by pro bono, pro-Israel Jewish civil rights organizations — alleging exclusion and misconduct. treatment of Jewish students who profess their support for Israel.

In 2019, San Francisco State University settled a lawsuit brought by Jewish students involved in Hillel after the students said they were barred from attending a human rights fair due to of their Zionist opinions.

The US Department of Education is currently investigating claims by Jewish USC student Rose Ritch, who said she was harassed for her Zionist views and eventually resigned from a position in student government. Other complaints are pending at the University of Illinois, Brooklyn College and Stanford University.

Although many Berkeley Law student groups are quite small, with no large budgets, investment portfolios, or endowments to wield in an act of protest, the student groups have nevertheless committed to the settlement that they will boycott, sanction and withdraw funds from “institutions, organizations, businesses, and any entity that has participated in or is directly/indirectly complicit in the occupation of Palestinian territories and/or supports the actions of the apartheid state of Israel.”

Erwin Chemerinsky

The move raised concerns for Chemerinsky, dean of the law school since 2017. Chemerinsky, who is Jewish, told J. he considers himself a Zionist even though he “condemns[s] many policies of Israel, just as I condemn many policies of the United States.

Chemerinsky helped found the Los Angeles-based Progressive Jewish Alliance, and in the mid-2000s represented the family of Rachel Corrie, a protester killed while trying to stop an Israeli bulldozer from demolishing a Palestinian home.

He told J. he was motivated to address the issue publicly after a visit from Women of Berkeley Law students who voted against the measure. The students were “quite upset,” Chemerinsky later wrote in an email to students.

“The reality is that the message is considered by many students to be anti-Semitic,” Chemerinsky told J.

His email was sent this week to leaders of all Berkeley Law student groups and shared with J.

“I learned that student groups were asked to adopt a statement strongly condemning Israel and some did. Of course, it is the First Amendment right of students to express their views on all matters,” he wrote.

“It is troubling to largely exclude a particular point of view from expression,” he added. “Indeed, taken at face value, that would mean that I could not be invited to speak because I support the existence of Israel, although I condemn many of its policies.”

His email continued: “The Community Principles for the Berkeley Campus emphasizes that we are committed to ensuring freedom of expression and dialogue that elicits the full range of opinions from our diverse communities.

Chemerinsky, speaking to J., added that “to say that anyone who supports the existence of Israel – that’s what you define as Zionism – shouldn’t talk would exclude, I don’t know, 90% or more of our Jewish students”. .”

Kenneth L. Marcus, an attorney and alumnus of Berkeley Law, also criticized the settlement in an interview Thursday. Marcus is the founder and president of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, a pro-Israel Jewish civil rights organization that is currently pursuing the aforementioned lawsuits and complaints.

This is not just a political stunt. It is tinged with anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli discrimination.

He said that students in this case “take a very ugly road”.

“Berkeley Law wouldn’t be Berkeley Law if students didn’t engage in a number of senseless political nonsense,” he said. “It’s different, because it’s not just a political stunt. It is tinged with anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli national origin discrimination. (National origin discrimination is unfair treatment based on a person’s country of origin, and is illegal in employment and by government agencies).

Tammi Rossman-Benjamin
Tammi Rossman-Benjamin

“They might as well have said, ‘No Zionists allowed,’” Amcha Initiative’s Tammi Rossman-Benjamin wrote to J. “That’s clear anti-Semitism. The university must ensure that every student, regardless of identity, will also be protected from such behavior…and should, at a minimum, promptly issue a statement decrying the targeting of Jewish students for their identity.

The passage of the BDS regulations represents the latest controversy at a university which, like many across the country and in Europe, has in recent years seen its share of controversies over Israel escalate into allegations of anti-Semitism.

For example, in 2019 and 2020, amid heated student government meetings, one Jewish student’s views were called “Zionist tears,” another Jewish student was called a “Nazi” for his support of Israel, and another was asked to leave the room because of an Israeli flag sticker on his laptop.

Partly in response to these and similar incidents, a group of Jewish faculty and campus leaders created the Anti-Semitism Education Initiative, a training effort led by the school’s principal Hillel and Jewish history teachers, which received funding from the Academic Engagement Network, a pro-Israel nonprofit. One of the band’s first projects was to create an 11-minute explainer video titled “Anti-Semitism Among Us” for students and staff, which defines antisemitism and describes when criticism of Israel crosses the line into antisemitism.

Ethan Katz
Ethan Katz

Ethan Katz, an associate professor of Jewish history at UC Berkeley, co-founded and co-leads the initiative. He criticized the BLSJP settlement, saying it was disappointing that while Palestinian groups have historically felt stifled in their ability to freely express their opinions, some now appear to be doing the same to those with pro-Israel views.

By instituting the statutes and others like them, “the organizations shut down any heated conversation about the Zionist-Arab conflict or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” he said.

Katz, a scholar of modern European and Mediterranean Jewish history, also pointed to a larger problem on the UC Berkeley campus and on campuses across the country that begins with one word: Zionism.

The BLSJP settlement, and others like it, treat Zionism as a pernicious evil on par with white supremacy. For many Jews, its meaning could not be more different.

“For these students and for a significant number of Palestinians, Zionism means colonial dispossession of settlers, period,” he said. “They don’t view events like the 1948 refugee crisis as part of the history of Zionism. They consider all instances of violence or dispossession experienced by Palestinians in the history of this conflict as the essence of Zionism.

“The deep roots or affirmative meanings of Zionism are not really there,” he added. For example, he said, a widely shared idea among historians and large segments of the Jewish community is that Zionism, at its core, is the national liberation movement of the Jewish people, or that Zionism in its “most basic definition” is support for a “political entity or even, for some people, a cultural entity of a Jewish character in a part” of the territory between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan.

Among groups like the BLSJP, that “perspective doesn’t hold water,” he said.