update deskSchools & Higher Education

Anti-Israel student activists disrupt Berkeley law dean’s dinner for graduates

A week beforehand, the gathering received calls for a boycott while a political cartoon invoking an ancient blood libel.

UC Berkeley School of Law in Berkeley, Calif. Credit: JHVEPhoto/Shutterstock.
UC Berkeley School of Law in Berkeley, Calif. Credit: JHVEPhoto/Shutterstock.

One of the groups leading demonstrations across college campuses took to agitating at a school administrator’s home during an annual dinner for third-year graduating law students.

Malak Afaneh, the head of Berkeley Law Students for Justice in Palestine and a graduating law-school student, attempted to deliver a speech on April 9 at the residence of Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of UC Berkeley School of Law and the Jesse H. Choper Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of California-Berkeley.

Instead of joining the others, she reminded the crowd that it was the last night of Ramadan and she refused to “break our fast on the blood of Palestinian people.”

“Please leave our house, you are guests in our house,” Chemerinsky said as his wife, Catherine Fisk—a law professor as well as faculty director of the Berkeley Center for Law and Work and the Berkeley Center for Law & Technology—grappled with Afaneh to stop the diatribe directed at the gathering of some 60 students.

Afaneh has previously worked as a law clerk for the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

Wearing a hijab and keffiyeh, she insisted on Tuesday evening that she had a First Amendment right to speak, which the law dean disputed, saying, “No, this is my house; the First Amendment doesn’t apply.”

Talking into a handheld microphone, she stood on the stone steps and welcomed everyone, whether asked to do so or not—declaring “peace and blessings upon you all”—before starting to harass the homeowners. She eventually accused Fisk of “putting her hands on her hijab” and assaulting “a Muslim Palestinian.”

Afaneh invoked lawyers before she and the 10 or so other students left.

Campus activists had taken aim at Chemerinsky last week for the planned dinner, calling for a boycott of the event and publishing a caricature of him holding a bloody knife and fork with the caption, “No Dinner With Zionist Chem While Gaza Starves.” The illustration invoked the medieval blood libel against Jews and was soon replaced.

Chemerinsky released a statement following the incident, expressing “profound sadness.” He added that he “never imagined that something that we do to help our community would become ugly and divisive.”

He said security will be present at other student dinners in the works.

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