(October 13, 2022 / JNS) When I wrote my column about the anti-Semitic student organizations at UC Berkeley’s School of Law that recently banned “Zionist” speakers and activists, as well as the pathetic response from the dean and the university, I had hoped the publicity would provoke action. Alas, it did not. It took a more hyperbolic column by Kenneth Marcus, chairman of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, to get their attention.
Marcus wrote a column with the provocative title “Berkeley Develops Jewish-Free Zones” that was widely circulated and forced the university to respond. Sadly, as is so often the case, rather than defend Jewish students on campus and take measures to address the student groups’ anti-Semitism, the university doubled down on defending itself, rationalized its inaction and hid behind the First Amendment.
Professors Ron Hassner and Ethan Katz wrote in defense of the university, saying Berkeley’s administration has improved its approach towards anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. It is true that there have been some positive developments, one of which I’ve highlighted: the establishment of the Helen Diller Institute for Jewish Law and Israel Studies. But, as I also documented in my article about the student groups, the campus remains—as it was during my time there two decades ago—the site of many anti-Semitic incidents, home to supporters of the anti-Semitic BDS movement and employer of several of America’s most virulently anti-Israel professors.
Students at Berkeley have explained how the law students’ actions adversely affected them and described the climate for Jewish students as much worse than the university will admit. One member of the Jewish Student Association, Charlotte Aaron, said, “They make Jewish students choose to either be ok denouncing an important part of who they are to be part of an organization, or to quietly exclude themselves.”
“There is no such thing as a Jewish-free zone at Berkeley,” said Shay Cohen, a member of the student government, “but that is just a technicality. By saying Zionists are not welcome here, you are saying Jewish students are not welcome here.”
Aaron added that leaders of the groups that adopted the anti-Semitic ban had to attend a seminar called “Palestine 101.” She noted, “The takeaway from that event was, if you are a Zionist in any way, shape or form, then you are also a settler-colonialist, and you support police brutality and all sorts of really terrible things.”
The university tried to minimize the problem at the School of Law by saying that only nine out of more than one hundred student organizations adopted the ban. I wonder how faculty would feel if the U.S. News and World Report rankings of universities mentioned that “only” about 9% of the students at its law school are anti-Semitic. As Marcus wrote in his response to the law school dean, “Would it be okay for only 5% or 10% of the campus to be segregated?”
Marcus also rejected the freedom of speech defense. “Discriminatory conduct, including anti-Zionist exclusions, is not protected as free speech,” he noted. “It would not be acceptable for students to adopt bylaws banning Black or Chinese speakers, perhaps with an exception for Black or Chinese students who agree to criticize their communities. This would immediately be recognized as exclusionary conduct, not protected speech.”
And where are the liberal defenders of minority rights? Alan Dershowitz has compared the ban to the “loyalty oath” of the McCarthy era, which was opposed by liberals and civil libertarians. “Today’s liberals and civil libertarians should also strongly oppose these ideological tests as well,” he said. “But because they come from the intersectionalist left, many are silent, while others are complicit.”
Beyond the immediate impact on campus, what is particularly disturbing about the Berkeley ban is that the members of the organizations that adopted it will graduate and may be employed by prominent law firms, corporations and government agencies. Perhaps they will enter politics. It is very likely that they will bring their views with them and help normalize and spread the poison of anti-Semitism.
Berkeley has made it clear that it will take no action to prevent this from happening, so the question is whether anything can be done from outside the university.
The reaction to the environment at Yale’s law school could be a precedent. A dozen federal judges said they would no longer hire clerks from Yale because they are dissatisfied with the university’s lack of intellectual diversity and actions that have undermined freedom of speech. If there are judges who agree with Marcus that Berkeley is not seriously addressing the misconduct of its students and stop hiring them, it would seriously damage the school’s prestige and lead some aspiring lawyers to choose a school that is not an incubator for anti-Semitism.
Maybe then the university will actually do something.
Mitchell Bard is a foreign policy analyst and an authority on U.S.-Israel relations who has written and edited 22 books, including The Arab Lobby, Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews and After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.
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