OpinionSchools & Higher Education

UC Berkeley’s epic failure

The administration refused to stop an antisemitic riot on campus.

Anti-Israel protesters at the University of California, Berkeley, bang on glass doors before eventually breaking them on Feb. 26, 2024. Source: NBC Bay Area/YouTube.
Anti-Israel protesters at the University of California, Berkeley, bang on glass doors before eventually breaking them on Feb. 26, 2024. Source: NBC Bay Area/YouTube.
Masha Merkulova
Masha Merkulova is executive director of Club Z.

A group of Jewish students at the University of California, Berkeley recently invited Ran Bar-Yoshafat, a reservist in the Israel Defense Forces and international policy expert, to discuss Israel’s war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip at a private campus event on Feb. 26.

We of the organization Club Z who invited him knew the local pro-Hamas student group Bears for Palestine would protest. What we did not expect was the complete and utter failure of Berkeley officials to ensure the event would be safe. Worse still, this failure came after multiple conversations with the administration and California police imploring them to be prepared for a worst-case scenario.

First, the location of the event had to be changed after Bears for Palestine posted it. The hate group also slandered Bar-Yoshafat as a “genocidal murderer” and demanded the event be shut down.

What followed was an orgy of racist violence. At the event, more than 300 protestors stormed the Zellerbach Playhouse and blocked Jewish students from entering. They called campus police “pigs”; advocated terrorism with the chant “intifada, intifada”; physically attacked Jewish students—grabbing one female student around the neck and pushing her into a wall—called them murderers; and even spat at them screaming “Dirty Jew!”

Berkeley Chief of Campus Police Yogananda Pittman canceled the event and the Jewish students were forced to evacuate under police protection. Appallingly, Bar-Yoshafat was forced to leave with no police escort and face the barbaric mob on his own.

It took UC Berkeley a week to issue a statement about the riot. The U.S. Department of Education, however, has launched an investigation. In true “we will not be silenced” fashion, Jewish campus groups are working to bring Bar-Yoshafat back to campus.

Nothing about the riot was new. In April 2016, protesters at San Francisco State University shut down an event featuring then-Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat. I watched administrators stand at the back of the room and do nothing. I asked them where the police were. They assured me that campus law enforcement was present and ready to intervene. This was a lie. When I finally identified a plainclothes officer, he told me that while he’d love nothing more than to remove the protestors, he had direct orders not to.

This is all the more appalling because the Berkeley riot was a blatant violation of Jewish students’ rights under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It is possible that lawsuits will be filed and, years from now, there will be some type of settlement.

But what are we doing now to prevent this from happening? The onus is on the Berkeley administration. Whether they like it or not, they have students on campus who are literally Hamas supporters. Those students flagrantly call for killing Jews. By shutting down the Feb. 26 event, administrators sent a clear message that such behavior will not only be allowed to continue but also rewarded.

This is a total failure of leadership. We must ask: Was Pittman unwilling to order officers to control the crowd? Will she and other administrators be held accountable for their failure? In interviews, school officials have said they were caught by surprise. Given the numerous similar incidents in recent years, this is all but impossible.

Their irresponsibility is stunning. They failed to keep their own students safe. They failed to promote diversity of thought and free speech. They failed in every way imaginable as leaders of an institution of higher learning.

Sadly, Berkeley’s failures are those of many Americans today. When our country’s core values of freedom of expression and equality are trampled by antisemitism, Americans in general must stand up and take notice—if only in their own self-interest.

Americans are delusional if they believe that Hamas is just a problem for Jews. These genocidal terrorists and their supporters mean it when they say “Death to America.” Make no mistake, the United States is next on their list. When institutions like Berkeley allow free rein to such sentiments, they are complicit in them.

Berkeley administrators, what is your response?

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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