Student Leader: With New Speakers Policy, University of California-Berkeley Encouraging ‘Double Standard’ on Israel
A new policy on campus events at the University of California-Berkeley encourages a “double standard” that works against pro-Israel groups, a student leader told The Algemeiner on Monday.
The charge comes as retired Harvard University law professor Alan Dershowitz prepares to speak on Israel at UC-Berkeley on Wednesday. Dershowitz’s talk was originally slated to take place a day earlier, but faced cancellation as its co-sponsors — the Chabad Jewish Student Center and Tikvah: Students for Israel — ran afoul of an events policy instituted at Berkeley in August. The “viewpoint-neutral” measure requires that campus police be notified eight weeks in advance of events that are not sponsored by a department and expect to draw an audience of over 200 people.
While organizers sought to secure sponsorship from a number of departments in response, they indicated that their efforts were rebuffed and the talk was in jeopardy, until Dershowitz received an invitation to speak from Berkeley Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky.
Adah Forer — co-president of Tikvah and an Emerson fellow with the pro-Israel education group StandWithUs — told The Algemeiner that multiple departments at UC-Berkeley either rejected or ignored requests to host Dershowitz, “including those that we know have sponsored anti-Israel speakers in the past.” Among these is the Ethnic Studies Department, which in 2015 sponsored a talk by Omar Barghouti, a co-founder of the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign.
The department “refused to host Dershowitz, claiming that student groups must have a relationship with the department in order to ask it to sponsor a speaker,” Forer said.
“However, these responses suggest that there is definitely an issue here,” she added. “A double standard is evident, as multiple departments refused to host Professor Dershowitz but have hosted anti-Israel speakers in the past, thus taking away from the academic integrity they supposedly stand for, especially when it comes to Israel.”
This claim was contested by Dan Mogulof, assistant vice chancellor at UC-Berkeley, who told The Algemeiner that the rejection by the Ethnic Studies department was “based on their own standing policy that has nothing to do with the perspective of a speaker.” He added that numerous pro-Israel speakers have appeared at campus events in the past.
Yet Forer described the the university’s new policy requiring eight weeks advance notice of non-departmental events as “a setback for student groups.”
She pointed out that school was not in session eight weeks ago, and said Tikvah “could not book rooms on campus for this time period until week four,” meaning that any event would have to take place on “week 12, the end of the semester.”
“To bypass this rule, student groups need to work with departments, as we are now,” Forer noted. “However, this can work against students who would like to bring pro-Israel speakers, because many departments on campus will refuse to host pro-Israel speakers but will gladly host anti-Israel speakers, thus skewing the ability of the campus community to hear differing perspectives and engage in dialogue.”
Mogulof disputed this characterization, arguing that “there have been a number of large student-sponsored events already this semester because, unlike Tikvah, other student groups contacted campus over the summer to begin the event planning process as per a policy that applies to all.”
“Tikvah’s [failure] to do that is not the University’s responsibility and has nothing what so ever to do with the perspectives of their group or any speaker they may wish to invite,” he added.
Mogulof noted that are more than 1,000 student groups at his university, which “all have access to a limited number of large event venues free of charge.”
“In this context, there is no way to equitably manage and coordinate supply and demand without ample advance notice,” he said. “Hence the eight week rule for audiences of more than 200 people.”
He also broadly rejected accusations of bias against pro-Israel events, saying, “We not only welcome speakers of diverse perspectives, we believe it is an essential part of our academic mission to provide students with access to the broadest possible range of ideas, beliefs and ideologies.”
Dershowitz told Fox News last month that if he was not invited to speak by any UC-Berkeley department, even though anti-Israel speakers were hosted by the school in the past, “we will sue them arguing that the eight-week rule is a cover for content-based discrimination against moderates, liberals, conservatives and supporters of Israel.”
Speaking of Dershowitz’s lecture, Forer said she was not aware of any planned protests by anti-Zionist student groups, and expressed hope that “individuals with differing viewpoints attend the event and engage in dialogue with Professor Dershowitz, who is always more than happy to answer questions.”
“We consistently invite [Students for Justice in Palestine] and groups with other viewpoints to attend our events,” she went on to say, “yet they never respond or participate.”
The article has been updated to reflect comments by Dan Mogulof, assistant vice chancellor at UC-Berkeley.