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November 8, 2018 5:08 pm

UC Berkeley Students Compare Victims of Pittsburgh Synagogue Massacre to Gazans Killed in Hamas-Led Riots

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A Palestinian riot on the Israel-Gaza Strip border, April 13, 2018. Photo: Reuters / Ibraheem Abu Mustafa.

Anti-Zionist groups at the University of California, Berkeley, equated victims of the recent antisemitic massacre at a Pittsburgh synagogue with Palestinians who were killed during Hamas-led riots on the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip.

Screenshot of a statement promoting a joint vigil organized by SJP and JVP at UC Berkeley. Photo: Tikvah: Students for Israel.

In a statement this week, the university’s Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) announced an upcoming joint vigil “to commemorate, honor, and remember the lives of those lost to violence and hate at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and the Palestinians killed in Gaza by settlers and Israeli state violence in the month of October,” according to a screenshot shared by the UC Berkeley group Tikvah: Students for Israel.

Lamenting “violence in the name of white supremacy” from Pittsburgh to Gaza, JVP and SJP condemned the killing of 11 Jewish worshipers on October 27 by suspected gunman Robert Bowers, who reportedly shouted, “All Jews must die,” during his attack.

“That same weekend,” the groups added, “three children in Gaza were murdered in an Israeli airstrike of the thirty-one Palestinians killed by the Israeli military in the month of October,” alluding to Palestinian casualties sustained during weekly riots near the Gaza border, many of whom have been claimed by Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and other militant groups.

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The three teenagers specifically referenced — aged 13 to 14, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry — were killed on October 28 while attempting to sabotage the fence separating Gaza from Israel, and “were apparently involved in placing an improvised explosive device” (IED) near it, according to the Israeli military.

IEDs and other weapons — including hand grenades, firebombs, and incendiary kites and balloons — have been used by some rioters since Hamas first launched the “Great March of Return” in March. Israeli forces have at times responded with live ammunition, drawing criticism from aid groups over the number of Palestinian casualties, which has included journalists and medical personnel.

During the last weekly border protest in October, an IDF spokesperson said that an exceptionally large number of IEDs and hand grenades were thrown at Israeli forces, while rioters attempted to cross the border fence in two instances, according to a report published by the Israel-based Meir Amit Intelligence and Information Center.

JVP and SJP’s planned vigil drew condemnation online and from some peers at Berkeley, with the student group Tikvah saying in a statement on Wednesday that it is “utterly disgusted and appalled by the audacity of SJP,” which it accused of exploiting “the murder of Jews to promote a political agenda.”

“When Jews are murdered, [SJP] says #alllivesmatter,” Tikvah wrote. “This is the opposite of solidarity.”

Tikvah hosted a vigil last Sunday for the Pittsburgh massacre victims alongside all other major Jewish student groups, which was attended by over 200 people and members of the administration, Tikvah president Nathan Bentolila told The Algemeiner. The group is now planning to hold a silent protest of JVP and SJP’s vigil alongside other Jewish clubs and leaders on campus, who Bentolila said “all stand united on this issue.”

The backlash has prompted JVP and SJP to reschedule the gathering — originally planned for Thursday — due to what they said was “concern for attendees safety and [the] threat of online harassment.” It is now scheduled for November 22, according to an updated event page.

“Our intention for this event is for our communities, Progressive Jews and Palestinians, to come together to grieve during these difficult times,” they wrote. “Just as we organize in solidarity, we mourn in solidarity. We reject any attempts to politicize our communities coming together to mourn.”

Earlier this month, JVP and other activist organizations in Boston — including IfNotNow and the Boston Workmen’s Circle Center for Jewish Culture and Social Justice — held a similar vigil linking victims of the Pittsburgh massacre to Palestinians killed in Gaza.

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