Threats to Jewish Students and Double Standards at UC Berkeley
After years of urging the University of California Board of Regents to take a strong stand against campus antisemitism, the regents will soon be issuing a statement that will hopefully address the problem in a meaningful way.
But, as regent Bonnie Reiss eloquently stated at the board’s November meeting, the hostile climate for Jewish students will not change unless UC chancellors act immediately and respond to threats and intimidation directed against Jewish students in the same way they would — and should — if Muslim, African American, Latino, or gay students were being targeted.
If only UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks would heed this plea.
Last October, Berkeley’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) held an anti-Israel demonstration in the center of the campus. After almost an hour of speeches attacking Israel, the SJP leader took the microphone and began chanting, “Intifada, intifada, we support the intifada!” This is the same as chanting, “Violence and murder, violence and murder, we support violence and murder against Jews!” The SJP leader riled up the crowd, encouraging them to repeat his terrorist threat against Jews. The scene was chilling, especially for Jewish students.
One Jewish student named Nathaniel, who had come to support a peaceful pro-Israel rally at the same time and place, was shocked — and afraid — when he heard the SJP’s leader call for violence against Jews. Holding an Israeli flag and a sign supporting Israel, Nathaniel was suddenly confronted by an SJP supporter who told him that he should be ashamed as a Jew to support Israel, and accused Nathaniel of being a “child murderer.”
Aghast at these accusations, Nathaniel was nevertheless determined to reply constructively and peacefully. Before he could, the SJP supporter told him to “f–k off,” stating that Nathaniel “disgusted” him. He demanded that Nathaniel leave the rally.
Nathaniel knew he had every right to remain at the rally. He put his sign in front of the SJP supporter, to show that he was not going to be intimidated, nor was he going to leave. The SJP supporter became more aggressive, grabbing for the sign and violently pushing Nathaniel, who defended himself by pushing back. Nathaniel’s fiancée arrived and at her urging, they left.
Shortly thereafter, Nathaniel filed a harassment complaint with the university. In addition, the Zionist Organization of America wrote — twice — to Chancellor Dirks, urging him to take two basic but important steps:
First, we asked him to publicly condemn the SJP for chanting terrorist threats against Jews. Second, we urged him to ensure that UC Berkeley’s rules were enforced and wrongdoers were held accountable. We identified at least three provisions of the Student Code of Conduct that may have been violated when the SJP incited violence against Jews, resulting in the harassment and physical assault of a Jewish student.
Chancellor Dirks refused to take either step. And despite the university’s promise to investigate Nathaniel’s harassment complaint, there is no indication that an investigation has been completed; Nathaniel’s concerns for his personal safety remain unaddressed.
A Berkeley official told Nathaniel that privacy laws preclude the university from releasing the results of a disciplinary hearing against his attacker. That isn’t true. Privacy laws permit the university to disclose to an alleged victim of a violent crime the results of any disciplinary proceeding against the alleged perpetrator, regardless of the results of the proceeding.
Moreover, the laws protect the privacy of individual students, not student groups, so there is no legal bar to UC Berkeley disclosing the discipline, if any, imposed on the SJP.
Chancellor Dirks’ silence in response to terrorist threats made against Jews on campus — and to the physical assault of a Jewish student that occurred minutes later — stands in stark contrast to how the chancellor responded when Muslim students were reportedly targeted.
Only weeks after refusing to issue a statement condemning the SJP’s public incitement of violence against Jews, the chancellor issued exactly such a statement condemning alleged threats against Muslim students. In a letter titled “Campus Statement on Muslim Community Safety,” the chancellor and other senior administrators “express[ed] our support and concern for members of our Muslim community,” and urged individuals with any information “to come forward so that we can begin a process of holding accountable those who are responsible.”
The disparity in the chancellor’s responses to anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim harassment is outrageous, reprehensible, and intolerable. Regent Reiss raised this very problem at November’s regents meeting. She implored all the UC chancellors to ponder this question: Why do they seem less concerned about acts of hate, threats, and intimidation directed against Jewish students than they seem to show when Muslim students and other groups are targeted? Chancellor Dirks will surely have a tough time answering this question — but students, alumni, donors, public officials, and the community should make sure he provides a satisfactory answer.
The forthcoming regents’ statement will hopefully be an important step toward improving the campus climate for Jewish UC students. But it’s time for Chancellor Dirks to start demonstrating moral leadership and respond to the harassment and intimidation of Jewish students with the same force and seriousness he has shown when other groups are targeted.
Morton A. Klein is the national director of the Zionist Organization of America. Susan B. Tuchman is the director of the ZOA Center for Law and Justice. This article was originally published by J. Weekly.