J. recently published a “Local Voice” by U.C. Berkeley chancellor Nicholas B. Dirks, responding to a letter from Morton A. Klein, of the Zionist Organization of America, and Susan B. Tuchman, of the ZOA Center for Law and Justice. Dirks’ column and the original letter concerned an Oct. 15 demonstration at U.C. Berkeley organized by Students for Justice in Palestine.
Dear Mr. Dirks: Thank you for your reply to our letter urging you to respond to the reprehensible actions of the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). We are disappointed that you did not address our letter’s central theme – that the SJP leader riled up the crowd at the group’s anti-Israel rally, urging them to repeat his amplified chant, “Intifada, intifada, we support the intifada!” This is the term for the Palestinian Arab terror war against Jews in Israel.
Please understand that contrary to your statement in J., we do not question the First Amendment right to engage in offensive speech. We simply request that you exercise your First Amendment right to publicly condemn this kind of inciting and dangerous speech. We also respectfully request that Berkeley’s own rules be upheld and enforced, so that if the SJP and its leaders are found to have violated them, they are held accountable, as any other students and student groups would and should be.
Some of the points you made require a response:
* You wrote that the violence committed against the Jewish student within minutes of the SJP’s call for an intifada is “a rare and isolated case of alleged violence.”
In fact, the SJP has a history of violence at Berkeley. In addition to the incident we described in our first letter – in which an SJP leader rammed a full shopping cart into a Jewish female student, causing injuries that required medical attention – the SJP also disrupted a pro-Israel concert and an SJP leader instigated a fight, physically assaulting a Jewish student on the concert’s stage. In addition, the SJP has constructed mock checkpoints, obstructed walkways, and held authentic-looking guns (violating university rules and the law), which they have used to threaten and poke Jewish students. SJP members have pushed Jewish students, spit at them, and tried to destroy students’ pro-Israel signs. In 2001, a professor reportedly was beaten up and spit on by an SJP member as he tried to enter a university building to teach his class. Violence committed by other student groups may be rare, but that is not true for the SJP. To our knowledge, the university has never held the SJP accountable.
* You wrote that you have instructed administrators “to engage these students in a discussion about principles of engagement and the extent to which certain tactics and language choices . . . may not be conducive to building the sort of campus community I believe we would all like to see.”
In addition to those internal discussions, it would be most helpful for you to make a public statement, explaining that the SJP’s call for an intifada is an incitement to murder and violence against Jews; that the SJP’s actions are frightening and threatening to members of the community; and that the SJP’s actions are at odds with the university’s values of upholding the dignity of all individuals, and cherishing civility and respect in our personal interactions.
* You wrote about the obligation of public universities to respect and defend free speech, even if the speech is “highly offensive, hateful, or bigoted or advocates violence as an acceptable form of political action.”
However, the university also has the obligation to condemn the speech when it causes students to feel unsafe and unwelcome. The University of Oklahoma expelled two students and shut down a fraternity for offensive chants against African Americans that did not even occur on campus. Yale (though a private university, it is committed to protecting free expression) punished students and shut down a fraternity for offensive chants against women. U.C. San Diego condemned a fraternity for offensive actions off-campus,and punished a student for a mindless mistake in the library.
In all of these cases, the actions could properly be called disturbing and insulting. But the SJP’s call at Berkeley for an intifada – a terror war against Jews – was out-and-out threatening to Jews on campus. It is hard to justify U.C. Berkeley not even speaking out when these strong and decisive steps were taken by other university leaders who are bound by the same requirements. What would the response be if the SJP were calling for a terror war against African Americans or gays?
* The Berkeley campus students’ Code of Conduct prohibits (1) “physical abuse,” including “threats of violence” and “other conduct that threatens the health or safety of any person” (Section V[102.08]); (2) harassment (Section V[102.09]); and (3) terrorizing conduct (Section V[102.24]). The SJP and its leaders should be investigated and held accountable if the evidence shows that any of U.C. Berkeley’s rules have been violated.
We appreciate the university’s concern about the issues we have raised and look forward to learning what steps are taken to send the right message with respect to the SJP’s frightening and dangerous actions.
Morton A. Klein is the national director of the Zionist Organization of America. Susan B. Tuchman is the director of the ZOA Center for Law and Justice.
This article was published by J.Weekly and may be found here.