October 30, 2015
VIA EMAIL AND FIRST-CLASS MAIL
Chancellor Nicholas B. Dirks
University of California, Berkeley
Office of the Chancellor
200 California Hall # 1500
Berkeley, CA 94720-1500
Dear Chancellor Dirks:
We write on behalf of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), the oldest and one of the largest pro-Israel organizations in the U.S. whose mission includes fighting anti-Semitism in all its forms, in the media, in schools, and on college campuses. We are pleased to learn that you have formed the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Jewish Student Life and Campus Climate, which surely signals your concern about the matter. But we ask that you personally immediately address recent frightening and reprehensible events on the UC Berkeley campus, provoked by the so-called “Students for Justice in Palestine” (SJP) group.
Jewish students at UC Berkeley have reported to us that on Wednesday, October 14, 2015, the SJP held an anti-Israel demonstration on Sproul Plaza and shockingly called for and incited violence and murder against Jews and Israelis. Within minutes of the incitement, a Jewish student was actually verbally and physically assaulted. The SJP’s actions have caused Jewish and Israeli students to feel afraid for their safety. We urge you to take immediate remedial action, as required by Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, before others act on the SJP’s deliberate provocation of violence and members of the campus community get seriously hurt – or worse.
UC Berkeley’s SJP Incited Violence against Jews and Israelis
Students have reported to us that the SJP held what it called an “International Day of Action” on October 14th on Sproul Plaza, which was an all-out effort to bash and demonize the Jewish State of Israel. To counter the group’s hateful messages, two pro-Israel student groups at UC Berkeley, Bears for Israel and Tikvah, organized a peaceful pro-Israel rally at the same time and place.
After almost one hour of ugly and vicious anti-Israel speeches by SJP members, the group’s leader began his own speech by calling for an “intifada” – the term that is used for the violent and murderous Palestinian Arab terror war against Jews in Israel; almost 2000 were murdered and 10,000 maimed during a six-year terror war against Jews in Israel, from 2000-2006. Using a microphone, so that his words were amplified and could be widely heard, the SJP leader riled up the crowd, encouraging them to repeat his chant, “Intifada, intifada, we support the intifada!” That is the same as chanting, “Violence and murder, violence and murder, we support violence and murder against Jews!” You can watch the incitement, and how the crowd enthusiastically responded, here: https://www.facebook.com/StandWithUs/videos/10153260496582689/.
The scene is chilling – especially to Israelis and Jews everywhere. Everyone there plainly knew that the SJP leader, in the center of the UC Berkeley campus, was inciting violence and murder against Jews.
A Jewish student whom we will identify as N.M. attended the pro-Israel rally. He heard the SJP leader’s call for and incitement of violence and murder and was shocked – and afraid. N.M. is studying for his LL.M. degree at the law school. He came to Berkeley from France, ironically having left his country to get away from the unbearable anti-Semitism there and build a new life in the U.S. N.M. was stunned to witness blatant anti-Semitism and a call to violence against Jews on an American college campus that supposedly values respect, tolerance, diversity and non-violence.
A Jewish Student at UC Berkeley Was Harassed and Verbally and Physically Assaulted, and Jewish Students Fear For Their Safety
N.M.’s fear grew when he was suddenly confronted and assaulted by an SJP supporter at the rally. N.M. was holding an Israeli flag and a sign that identified the number of victims of the recent horrific Palestinian Arab terrorist attacks against innocent Jews in Israel. The SJP supporter belligerently told N.M. that he should be ashamed as a Jew to support Israel, and falsely accused N.M. of being “a child murderer.” N.M. was aghast at these accusations, but was determined to reply constructively and peacefully. Before he could do so, the SJP supporter vulgarly told N.M. to “fuck off” and that N.M. “disgusted” him. The SJP supporter demanded that N.M. leave the pro-Israel rally.
N.M. knew that he had every right to remain at the rally and was determined to stay and resist the SJP supporter’s threatening and intimidating behavior. He put his sign in front of the SJP supporter, to show that he was not scared and that he was not going to leave.
The SJP supporter became violent, grabbing for the sign to try to destroy it, and he violently pushed N.M. N.M. defended himself by pushing back. Then N.M.’s fiancée arrived and asked him to let the matter go, which is what he did.
N.M. has already filed a complaint with the university, describing in detail the incitement of violence and murder against Jews, the verbal and physical attack he endured, and the fear he feels for his physical safety as a Jew and a supporter of Israel at UC Berkeley. His complaint asks what steps his university will be taking to protect him and other Jewish and pro-Israel students at UC Berkeley and ensure their safety.
Another Jewish student, whom we will identify as A.A., also reported to us that he feels threatened and afraid at UC Berkeley. A.A. is Israeli and is also in the LL.M. program at UC Berkeley. A.A. attended the pro-Israel rally on Sproul Plaza, not actively participating but simply observing and walking around the area. Then he heard the SJP leader chanting and calling for an intifada, and urging the crowd to join in, which they did with enthusiasm. As an Israeli and a Jew, A.A. understood that the SJP leader was calling for and inciting violence and murder against Israelis and Jews, right in the heart of the UC Berkeley campus. A.A felt upset, scared and unsafe, and immediately left the area.
In calling for an “intifada,” the SJP knew exactly what it was doing and what impact its actions would have on Jewish and Israeli students at UC Berkeley. Jews in Israel have endured two intifadas – terror wars – already: Palestinian Arabs directed violence – thousands of Molotov cocktail attacks, hand grenade attacks, assaults with guns and explosives, and suicide bombings – not only at Israeli soldiers but also at civilians. These murderous attacks occurred in restaurants, shopping malls and supermarkets, and on the streets. American Jews in Israel were among those murdered and maimed during the first and second intifadas. Many Jews are justifiably worried now about a third intifada, given the wave of random and vicious Palestinian Arab violence and murder against innocent Jewish civilians in Israel over the past several weeks.
This recent wave of violence and murder did not come out of the blue. It is the direct result of Palestinian Arab incitement – the same kind of incitement that the SJP is promoting on your campus. In a television interview on September 16th, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas praised Palestinian Arab rioters on the Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site, and encouraged even more violence, terrorism and bloodshed. Vowing not to allow Jews “with their filthy feet” to “desecrate” the site, Abbas said, “We welcome every drop of blood spilled in Jerusalem. This is pure blood, clean blood, blood on its way to Allah. With the help of Allah, every shaheed [martyr] will be in heaven, and every wounded will get his reward.”
As of October 29th, there have been 51 stabbings, four shootings, and five car rammings in Israel. Twelve Israeli Jews have been killed and 126 wounded – 13 seriously. Jews have been stabbed while walking in the street, in malls, and in supermarkets, riding buses, and waiting at bus stops. Rocks and boulders have been thrown at and dropped on their cars. The most recent casualty was Richard Lakin, an American educator and peace activist (His Facebook page reportedly showed an image of Israeli and Arab children hugging under the word “coexist.”) who died of wounds he sustained on October 13th when two Palestinian Arab men boarded a bus in Jerusalem and began shooting and stabbing passengers. This innocent, peace-loving American was shot in the head and stabbed in the face and chest.
Jews everywhere fear what could happen next. We dare not let this happen in the United States or on our campuses, including at UC Berkeley. Imagine the horrible impact this would have: Students would understandably be reluctant to apply to and attend UC Berkeley.
Jewish Students Must be Protected Against a Hostile Campus Environment
Under Title VI in the Same Way that Other Targeted Groups are Protected
Shockingly, the SJP is doing its best to stoke the flames at UC Berkeley. This group’s behavior is no different from a student group encouraging and inciting violence against African Americans, gays, women or another minority group. The behavior would not and should not be tolerated for one second.
For example, last spring at the University of Oklahoma, members of a fraternity were riding on a bus singing chants that used the “n” word and referred to lynching. The president of the University of Oklahoma wasted no time in imposing harsh consequences: Two students were expelled because of – as the president wrote – their “leadership role in leading a racist and exclusionary chant which has created a hostile educational environment for others.” In addition, the entire fraternity was shut down, even though the incident involved some but not all of the fraternity members.
Even when university leaders have taken steps to remedy a hostile campus environment for African-Americans, the government has stepped in to ensure that African-Americans’ rights were fully protected. At UC San Diego, a fraternity held an off-campus party in February 2010 and invited students to dress as stereotypes of African-Americans. The Chancellor of UC San Diego immediately condemned the fraternity’s actions. In a separate campus incident, a noose was found hanging in the library. The student responsible – herself a minority – publicly apologized and said the act was a mindless mistake and not racially motivated. Yet she was suspended. Notwithstanding the remedial measures that were taken, the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education themselves initiated an investigation into complaints of racial harassment at UC San Diego. The investigation resulted in the university entering into a voluntary agreement to undertake systemic changes to resolve the harassment allegations.
You must respond to the hostile and potentially dangerous environment that the SJP is creating for Jewish students at UC Berkeley in the same serious and forceful way – particularly since this is by no means the first time that the SJP has engaged in threatening and intimidating conduct against Jewish Berkeley students. Indeed, before your tenure at UC Berkeley, the leader of this group actually physically assaulted a Jewish female student in March 2010. The Jewish student was rammed from behind with a full shopping cart by the leader of the SJP, causing injuries to her back and ankle which required medical attention. The attack was completely unprovoked; the Jewish student was simply holding a sign that read “Israel Wants Peace.”
The SJP is now deliberately encouraging and inciting violence and murder against Jews, and the group’s appalling behavior cannot and must not be tolerated. The incitement has already had its intended effect: A Jewish student was verbally and physically attacked within minutes of the SJP leader’s call for an intifada. And we see what incitement to violence has wrought in Israel. Please do not wait to act until the violence on your campus accelerates and a student is seriously hurt or worse. In accordance with your obligations under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, we urge you to take the following steps:
- Exercise your own First Amendment rights and publicly condemn the SJP by name for its hateful, anti-Semitic, wrongful and possibly unlawful actions.
- Open a full investigation into the SJP’s conduct to determine whether this group violated university rules and policies and should be sanctioned. There are numerous provisions of the Berkeley Campus Student Code of Conduct that may well have been violated, including Section V(102.08) (prohibiting “physical abuse” which includes “threats of violence” and “other conduct that threatens the health or safety of any person”), Section V(102.09) (prohibiting harassment), and Section V(102.24) (prohibiting terrorizing conduct). If the evidence indeed shows that the Code of Conduct was violated, then the SJP and its leader who was responsible for calling for and inciting violence, should each be sanctioned. Because the SJP’s conduct specifically selected and targeted individuals based on their national origin and ancestry, the sanctions should be enhanced pursuant to Section VI of the Code of Conduct. The student who incited the violence should be expelled (as the fraternity leaders at the University of Oklahoma were), the student who verbally and physically attacked student N.M. should be expelled, and the SJP’s registered status should be revoked. This group has shown that it cannot and will not abide by the principles of respect and civility that the university is committed to, and that it cannot conform its conduct to the rules that all other students and student groups are expected to comply with. This group is acting less like a student group and more like a terrorist group.
- If the SJP’s permission to operate on campus is rescinded, or if the group is admonished or sanctioned in any other way, then it should be required to complete an educational program on anti-Semitism – including the history of anti-Semitism and its contemporary manifestations — as well as diversity training on tolerance and respect, as a condition of being allowed to operate again on campus.
- Publicly state that there will be zero tolerance for anti-Semitism at UC Berkeley, and educate the campus community about the many forms that anti-Semitism takes today, referring specifically to the definition of anti-Semitism that the U.S. government has been using for years. (See http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/fs/2010/122352.htm.) The U.S. government’s definition is important because it makes it clear that while not all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic, some anti-Israelism crosses the line into anti-Semitism and is just as hurtful and harmful to Jews as the “old-fashioned” anti-Semitism.
The ZOA is fully committed to ensuring that Jewish students at UC Berkeley are afforded the kind of campus environment that every student deserves – one that is physically and psychologically safe and conducive to learning. That is their legal right under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. We urge you to protect that right by responding immediately and forcefully to the SJP’s hateful, anti-Semitic and violence-inciting conduct before the situation escalates further. If someone gets hurt, then the college administration will bear responsibility.
We will await your response and your plan of action before we proceed further. In addition, we would be pleased to assist you with your new initiative – the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Jewish Student Life and Campus Climate – to bring meaningful and positive changes to the Berkeley campus.
Very truly yours,
Morton A. Klein Susan B. Tuchman, Esq.
National President Director, Center for Law and Justice