Jewish Students Stand Against Hate at UC Berkeley; Will the Staff Join Them?
by Ron Belman
On Wednesday, February 15, the Associated Students of the University of California (ASUC) Berkeley Senate met to deliberate on adopting SR-027, a bill proposed by Senator Shay Cohen. The bill calls for the ASUC to formally adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Association (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism. The IHRA definition is the gold standard for identifying contemporary antisemitism; governments, universities, and international organizations have adopted it worldwide.
UC Berkeley has an unfortunate history of antisemitic incidents involving student groups and professors. For example, Hatem Bazian, a professor of Middle Eastern Studies at UC Berkeley, has been known to promote antisemitic conspiracies. Bazian has retweeted posts accusing Jews of getting away with mass murder, argued that Jewish money controls Congress, and routinely denies the historic Jewish ties and claims to the land of Israel.
Bazian co-founded Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a campus organization with a history of antisemitism.
SJP uses the moniker Bears For Palestine (BFP) at UC Berkeley. Like SJP chapters across the country, BFP is known for targeting Jewish and pro-Israel students on campus, pushing discriminatory divestment resolutions, and spreading anti-Israel propaganda.
Back to the most recent effort to adopt the IHRA working definition of antisemitism at Berkeley in February 2023.
During the committee meeting two days before the actual vote on the IHRA definition, one of the senators accused a fellow senator, who happened to be Jewish, of supporting the bill because of his Jewish ancestry, labeling him and its supporters as anti-Palestinian. This smear ignored the fact that the Jewish senator never publicly supported SR-027, and in fact, ultimately did not vote in favor of this definition during the final vote.
The February 15 meeting became an ugly display of antisemitism, with around 200-300 students using the session to accuse Zionists of being “anti-Palestinian.” They also accused supporters of SR-27 and the IHRA working definition of antisemitism itself of barring criticism of Israel. Both of these claims are false.
First, the IHRA working definition has nothing to do with the Arab-Israeli conflict or the situation of the Palestinian people; it is a tool to recognize antisemitism.
Furthermore, the second claim can be debunked by simply reading the IHRA definition, which states, “…criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”
Instead of listening to the dozens of Jewish students who remained on topic and cordially supported their right to define their hatred, 13 members of the ASUC stood behind anti-Israel detractors who made propagandistic claims about Israel and misrepresented the IHRA definition.
After 6 hours, at 3 am, the ASUC tabled the bill indefinitely, again showing that UC Berkeley has failed its Jewish students. This has enabled Bears for Palestine to continue their public displays of antisemitism.
Weeks after this decision, Bears For Palestine hosted what they call “Israeli Apartheid Week.” Between March 6-10, the club erected a mock “Apartheid Wall” on campus, with claims demonizing the State of Israel and “Zionists,” an unmistakable dog whistle for Jews.
As CAMERA on Campus has documented, the “walls” are intended to make pro-Israel students “uncomfortable on campus,” as well as “perpetuate a culture that targets Zionist students.”
Bears for Palestine also held several propagandistic events. They screened “Farha” and “Tantura,” films that significantly distort the events leading up to and during the Israeli War of Independence. “Farha” draws inspiration from the imagination of director Darin Sallam and historical revisionist Ilan Pappe. “Tantura” primarily draws on the falsified accounts of Theodore Katz, a protege of Pappe known for fabricating historical accounts to advance a political agenda.
Bears for Palestine also hosted events promoting the libel of Jewish control over Palestinians. They even invited Berkeley students to an event to “free Palestine” from “the river to the sea.” This is a call for the elimination of the State of Israel.
I welcome any students interested in the truth about this vile hate campaign to check out CAMERA on Campus’s Apartheid Week Exposed website.
Despite efforts by Bears for Palestine to spread Jew-hatred and anti-Israel propaganda, Jewish and pro-students at Berkeley proudly gathered near Bears for Palestine’s libelous displays, respectfully holding Israeli flags and sharing hyperlinks to resources from groups such as CAMERA and Students Supporting Israel.
We will never back down; it is time for administrators and the ASUC to do the right thing and stand with us against Jew-hatred by adopting the IHRA working definition of antisemitism and instituting policies to address incidents of antisemitism on campus sufficiently.
Ron Belman is the UC Berkeley CAMERA Fellow and a Club Z alum.