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November 23, 2022 9:45 am

‘Jew-Free Zones’ at UC Berkeley Law School Are a Warning of Things to Come

avatar by Rachel O'Donoghue


Poster held by a protester at a UC Berkeley student senate meeting on Feb. 3, 2020. Photo: Moi Stern Weisleder.

Richard Leib, the University of California’s Board of Regents Chair released an unprecedented statement last month in a bid to address what he termed a “disturbing development” at UC Berkeley School of Law.

That development was an amendment to the prestigious law school’s bylaws, which was put forth by UC Berkeley’s Law Students for Justice in Palestine (LSJP) student group, declaring that not inviting any pro-Zionist speakers was necessary to preserve the “safety and welfare of Palestinian students on campus.”

Media outlets and commentators summarized the new rule as the creation of “Jewish-free zones” at the university (see here, here, and here).

Jewish students at Berkeley were naturally outraged at the policy, which essentially amounted to a ban on the vast majority of Jews as speakers, as Erwin Chemerinsky, a progressive Zionist, noted.

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Shortly afterward, the Jewish Students Association at Berkeley Law issued a statement of condemnation, pointing out that students can simultaneously advocate for Palestinians and criticize Israeli policies without “denying Israel the right to exist or attacking the identity of other students.”

On October 13 — weeks after the policy was enacted — Leib clearly felt compelled to respond:

Recently a number of student groups at the UC Berkeley School of Law have adopted amendments to their bylaws excluding Zionist speakers and supporters of Israel from being allowed to speak to those groups. This disturbing development has had a damaging impact on Jewish students, many of whom no longer feel comfortable participating in events organized by these groups. For many of these students, Zionism is an inextricable part of their Jewish identity. I am appalled when any group of UC students is subject to discrimination and made to feel unsafe, unwelcomed and excluded.”

In addition, Leib pointed to a university-wide policy against discrimination, which states that “antisemitism and other forms of discrimination have no place in the University.”

But while the explicit condemnation from the university’s head is welcome news (although it has not resulted in the withdrawal of the amendment), many observers have glossed over the ugly truth that lies behind the ban on pro-Zionist speakers — that it is the predictable culmination of years of unchallenged antisemitism and anti-Israel bigotry that festers on UC Berkeley’s campus.

For decades, Jewish students at the Ivy League college have complained about antisemitic bigotry, with a 1993 research paper laying bare the scale of the problem; specifically that 70 percent of a random sample of Jewish students at the university reported they had perceived at least one negative incident on campus associated with Judaism.

And as HonestReporting has previously detailed, antisemitism at UC Berkeley has seemingly increased in recent years.

For example, last September, Berkeley’s Chancellor Carol Christ issued an apology following revelations by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) that an academic employed within the Departments of Near Eastern and Asian American and Asian Diaspora Studies, Hatem Bazian, had tweeted several antisemitic cartoons, including one of a Jewish man celebrating alongside the caption “I can now kill, rape, smuggle organs & steal the land of Palestinians.”

In 2020, widely-respected historian and Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt was on the receiving end of antisemitic student opprobrium when a talk she was giving about none other than antisemitism was interrupted by students brandishing placards criticizing Israel. Of course, such actions patently contravene the IHRA’s widely-adopted definition of antisemitism by suggesting that Lipstadt as a Jewish woman is somehow representative of Israel.

Other ugly incidents that have disturbed UC Berkeley’s Jewish students include pro-Palestinian student groups displaying pictures of Palestinian terrorists who have been convicted of murdering innocent Jews and Israelis, and Berkeley’s student-run newspaper, The Daily Californian, publishing an antisemitic cartoon in response to the news that famous American lawyer Alan Dershowitz had been invited to campus in 2017 to deliver a lecture titled, “The Liberal Case for Israel.”

But the apparent takeover of Berkeley Law by anti-Israel student groups is the most worrying development so far.

After all, consider the fact that just two years ago, the school was publicizing the prominent role that one of its law professors, Steven Davidoff Solomon, had in developing a program for stamping out antisemitism on college campuses — dubbed the “Berkeley Model” — which garnered significant national media coverage.

There is every chance that the ban on Zionist speakers at the law school will be overturned, not least because this week a claim was filed with the US Department of Education Office of Human Rights against UC Berkeley Law School by Florida-based attorney Gabriel Groisman and prominent Israel-based activist, human rights lawyer, and CEO of the International Legal Forum, Arsen Ostrovsky.

Arguing the bylaw is indicative of “deep-seated antisemitic discrimination,” the suit seeks to demonstrate how Zionism is an intrinsic part of Jewish identity and, therefore, the ban cannot be considered merely a matter of free speech.

Yet, overturned or not, the actions that were spearheaded at UC Berkeley Law are symptomatic of the problem of antisemitism on all American college campuses, and paint a worrying picture of the future for Jewish students in the United States.

As the late civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., responded when approached by a student in 1967 who criticized Zionism, “when people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You’re talking antisemitism.”

His words are as true today as they were then.

The author is a contributor to HonestReporting, a Jerusalem-based media watchdog with a focus on antisemitism and anti-Israel bias — where a version of this article first appeared.

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