Tensions Flare as UC Berkeley Students Debate Condemning Anti-Zionist Group for Glorifying Palestinian Terrorists
A student senate meeting at the University of California, Berkeley was cut short on Monday amid rancor over a bill condemning an anti-Zionist club for displaying images of Palestinians who were involved in hijackings and bombing attacks.
The legislation, which was set to be considered by a committee of the Associated Students of the University of California (ASUC), was first brought forward in December by senior Milton Zerman, an ASUC senator. It calls out Bears for Palestine for using its dedicated cubicle space to display photos of “violent terrorists” including Rasmea Odeh, Fatima Bernawi and Leila Khaled — the latter seen wielding an AK-47 assault rifle.
Bernawi has been lionized for reportedly being the first Palestinian woman to organize an attack in Israel, placing a bomb in a Jerusalem cinema in 1967 over objections to a film it was screening. Odeh, in turn, was convicted in a trial overseen by an International Red Cross observer of helping murder university students Leon Kanner and Eddie Joffe in a 1969 supermarket bombing in Jerusalem. She was deported from the US to Jordan in 2017 after lying on her immigration forms.
Khaled gained notoriety after helping hijack two planes in Europe in 1969 and 1970. Both she and Odeh are affiliated with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a US-designated terrorist organization that was behind multiple suicide bombings during the Second Intifada, which claimed more than 100 casualties, children among them.
More than 200 people showed up to Monday’s 8 p.m. meeting on the ASUC resolution, according to various estimates, with many Jewish and Zionist students coming out to back the resolution, while Bears for Palestine members and supporters gathered to oppose it. More than 110 people signed up to speak during a public comment period, the student-run Daily Californian reported.
Both sides accused the other of engaging in harassing behavior over the course of the debate, with Tikvah: Students for Israel saying in a Facebook post on Tuesday that “Jewish students were repeatedly harassed, heckled, and threatened with physical threats of violence.”
“One [Bears for Palestine] member stepped into a student’s face and said ‘I’m going to kick your ass,’ while another Jewish student was chased out of the room by [Bears for Palestine] members,” the statement alleged.
The group also shared a video of resolution opponents chanting as Jewish students collectively left the meeting after deciding, approximately two hours into the public comment period, “that enough was enough and that we were not going to sit idly by as our members were threatened and harassed,” according to Tikvah.
Last night, at an ASUC meeting in which students debated over a bill to condemn a display by Bears for Palestine glorifying terrorists and murderers of Jews, Jewish students were repeatedly harassed, heckled, and threatened with physical threats of violence. Despite multiple threats of violence, the ASUC administrator and moderator refused to get involved. One BFP member stepped into a student’s face and said "I'm going to kick your ass,” while another Jewish student was chased out of the room by BFP members. We, as a community, decided that enough was enough and that we were not going to sit idly by as our members were threatened and harassed, so we walked out. Physical threats against Jewish students will NEVER be tolerated at UC Berkeley. Jewish students should never feel threatened and should NEVER fear for their safety while on campus. This is truly an embarrassing moment for the UC Berkeley.
Posted by Tikvah: Students for Israel on Tuesday, February 4, 2020
The resolution’s opponents — some of whom were holding Palestinian flags and wearing keffiyahs — were seen in the video repetitively clapping, chanting “Free, free, free Palestine,” and cheering as students walked out of the meeting.
“It was absolute mayhem as we were leaving,” said Moi Stern Weisleder, a junior and co-president of Tikvah. “They were celebrating, it was like a football game or something.”
“They were singing to our faces, they were insulting us, calling us Nazis, supporters of genocide, terrorists, child-murderers,” he told The Algemeiner on Wednesday. “It was terrible.”
“There was no dialogue between the two [sides],” Stern recounted. “Whenever a Jewish student would go up and speak, they would be interrupted, they would be laughed at.” Opponents of the resolution “would scream at them, that they were white supremacists and shouldn’t even be up there,” he added. “It was so uncivilized … I’ve never seen anything like that in my entire life.”
The meeting was ultimately adjourned shortly after 10:30 p.m., before all speakers had gotten their turn or voting took place, following an argument between some “members of the crowd and Zerman,” the Daily Californian reported. All agenda items were tabled until next Monday, ASUC Senators Media Sina said in an email.
In its own Facebook post on Tuesday, Bears For Palestine said many of its supporters were “heavily threatened, photographed, and were on the receiving end of slurs.”
“So far, we have reports of Senator Milton himself threatening a student, along with one of our Black allies being called several racial slurs,” the statement continued. “Two women also reported being groped by one of the zionist students. After leaving the meeting, pro-Palestine students were followed home and harassed.”
The group said the meeting was nonetheless “a win for us,” having “had every marginalized group on campus standing with us.”
Zerman rejected the allegations in Bears for Palestine’s statement, particularly the claim that he threatened a student. He did not, however, dispute calling some individuals “cowards.”
“These speakers wanted to support violent terrorists under the guise of not being reported, of covering their faces with masks and posters, and I do think that’s cowardice,” he told The Algemeiner on Wednesday. “If you’re going to advocate for the [murder of innocents] … then do it publicly and face scrutiny for it.”
Both he and Stern recalled hearing Bears for Palestine members repeatedly describe Odeh, Bernawi and Khaled “freedom fighters,” while failing to acknowledge the fate of their victims, most notably Kanner and Joffe, whose photos Zerman displayed while speaking at the meeting.
“I saw students flipping off the pictures of the victims,” Zerman added. The photos of Kanner and Joffe were later torn up by a student who opposed his resolution, Zerman said, bringing him close to tears.
“The reason why I’m so passionate about this and so angered about what happened and how Bears for Palestine chose to respond, is that these students killed were my age,” he noted. “They were college student just like me. One was 21 years old and one was 22.”
“I’m 22,” Zerman said. “I’m Jewish. I’ve been to Israel. I’ve shopped in Israeli supermarkets — that could have been me or my friends who live in Israel.”
“I taped [them] back together and put the photos up in my … room in my fraternity house,” he added. “It’s going to remain there until I graduate, and when I do graduate, I’ll put it up wherever I choose to move to in their memory.”
Bears for Palestine did not respond to a request for comment by press time.