newsSchools & Higher Education

Professor ends ‘sleep-in’ protest of Jew-hatred after Berkeley agrees to requests

Ron Hassner told JNS there are plans for a national “sleep-in” in order to “banish antisemitism.”

Aerial view of buildings in the University of California, Berkeley campus. Credit: Sundry Photography/Shutterstock.
Aerial view of buildings in the University of California, Berkeley campus. Credit: Sundry Photography/Shutterstock.

Ron Hassner, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who has attracted national coverage by sleeping in his office to protest antisemitism on campus, announced on Thursday that the university had agreed to his three requests, thus ending his nearly two-week “sleep-in.”

In a message to Jewish campus leaders about the end of his protest, Hassner, the chancellor’s chair in political science and chair in Israel studies, described the community that coalesced around his protest.

“Some 80 to 100 guests came to my office every day to eat, drink, chat, meet friends, and discuss antisemitism and free speech,” he wrote. “Students, parents, alumni, community members, rabbis, administrators and colleagues dropped by with food and encouragement. Jewish and non-Jewish students, pro-Israel and even some anti-Israel students spent hours around my coffee table, late into the night, to talk about their identity and their politics.”

“Many hundreds sent messages of encouragement and gifts for students from around the U.S. and the world,” he added.

Hassner wrote that Berkeley administrators agreed on Thursday to three requests he made of the university’s chancellor and provost on March 7.

He wanted all students, even those wearing Stars of David, to freely pass through Sather Gate—a prominent part of the campus—unobstructed.

“The right of protesters to express their views must be defended. It does not extend to blocking or threatening fellow students,” he wrote, adding that Berkely will be dispatching observers “to actively document bullying, abuse, blocking or intrusion on personal space.”

Hassner also asked that the university bring back any speaker whose talk was canceled or interrupted. He wrote on Thursday that Berkeley made good on that request too. Ran Bar-Yoshafat, an Israeli lawyer “who was attacked by a violent mob three weeks ago spoke to an even larger crowd this Monday,” Hassner wrote. 

“After students invited him to return to Berkeley, the university invested heavily in protecting his person, the venue for the talk, the audience attending and the talk itself,” he added.

“It is crucial to me that no speaker—Jewish or Muslim or Palestinian or Israeli—be barred from speaking,” Hassner told JNS.

The professor’s third request was “mandatory Islamophobia and antisemitism training on campus,” he wrote, and the chancellor now “has committed to funding and instituting such training.” 

“We have a strong Antisemitism Education Program that is already employed on and off campus, including at other universities and nearby high schools,” Hassner told JNS. “It has not been mandatory, so few students or staff have taken advantage of that training. It will now be required.”

This protest reached its apex on Tuesday night when 33 professors on campuses across the Golden State—Jewish and non-Jewish—joined Hassner’s effort. 

Hassner told JNS that colleagues did so “to support all Jewish students on all California campuses, to spread awareness among their colleagues that Jewish faculty and students are deeply concerned, to find like-minded colleagues” and “to support me.”

At the University of California, San Francisco, he told JNS, 10 professors joined the sleep-in.

“There is a plan forming to schedule a national sleep-in so that professors all across the U.S., Jewish and non-Jewish, demonstrate their resolve to banish antisemitism from their campuses,” he told JNS.

‘Drastic times require drastic actions’

Miriam Elman, executive director of the Academic Engagement Network, told JNS that it is “heartening” to see so many professors, including those who are part of AEN, “inspired by Ron’s powerful expression of solidarity for beleaguered Jewish students at Berkeley.”

“Drastic times such as these require drastic actions,” Elman added.

Judea Pearl, chancellor professor of computer science at the University of California, Los Angeles, told JNS that he was “proud to see UCLA participation in this protest.”

“I see this sleep-in protest as an indelible mark of incompetence on university administration. The best brains of UC academia, distinguished professors and members of the National Academies, must camp out in their offices to get administrators’ attention to the spreading claws of antisemitism and Zion-ophobia, which can be stopped with a modest amount of wisdom and goodwill,” Pearl said.

‘Staggering’ anti-Israel sentiment

A new report from the AMCHA Initiative, which tracks campus Jew-hatred, underscored how common Berkeley’s challenges appear to be among California campuses.

Researchers drew a connection between University of California faculty anti-Zionist activism since Oct. 7 and increased Jew-hatred on the system’s 10 campuses.

Comparing the 23-week period following Oct. 7 and the same amount of time during the year prior, AMCHA found “a staggering increase of more than 1,000% (from 8 to 94) in the number of incidents (e.g. lectures, statements, rallies, etc.) involving anti-Zionist advocacy and activism carried out or supported by UC faculty and graduate students.”

That included canceling class “to support the Palestinian people’s call to end the genocide” and participating in a “‘Shut It Down for Palestine’ protest rally,” and supporting efforts to boycott Israel, including academic boycotts.

AMCHA expressed “particular concern” about the founding of Faculty for Justice in Palestine chapters on every UC campus since Oct. 7.

FJP’s “explicit goal” is to support Students for Justice in Palestine and its members use their professional positions “to promote anti-Zionist advocacy and activism, particularly an academic boycott of Israel that seeks to rid college campuses of Zionism and its supporters,” according to the AMCHA report.

Elman, of Academic Engagement Network, told JNS that not enough is being done on the University of California and Cal State campuses “to ensure that Israel-themed events and Israeli speakers are not disrupted,” and administrations are “not clearly conveying or enforcing codes of conduct for protests and demonstrations.”

“University leaders should see this faculty campaign as a wake-up call and take immediate action steps to improve the campus climate for Jewish and all students,” she said.

Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, director of AMCHA Initiative and one of the report’s two researchers, applauded the sleep-in effort.

“What is happening on UC campuses is horrifying. Not only is antisemitism soaring, UC faculty are fueling it,” she told JNS. “UC faculty, in their official capacities, are using their classrooms, conference halls, departmental websites and other educational spaces to spread hatred of Israel and its on-campus supporters and incitement to harm them.”

“The university has policies to prevent this outrageous abuse, but UC administrators don’t have the courage to enforce them,” Rossman-Benjamin added. “Until they do, Jewish students are simply not safe at the University of California.”

For his part, Hassner told J. The Jewish News of Northern California that he’s heading home. The first things he plans to do are “hug my kids and shower,” he wrote to the paper. “Maybe not in that order.”

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