Anti-Semitism and Pro-Israeli Campus Activism, A Case Study: University of California, Berkeley

, June 1, 2008

● University of California (UC) Berkeley, with its longstanding history of outspoken activism, took up the cause of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict. Anti-Israeli expressions peaked during the Second Intifada, posing a major challenge to pro-Israeli students who experienced harassment, property vandalism, and academic discrimination.

● In 2003 and 2004, political and other factors led to a shift at Berkeley as at other campuses. First, AIPAC’s investment in student training programs fostered more effective pro-Israeli activism. Second, the reelection of President Bush along with the Abu Ghraib scandal diverted protesters’ energies from Israel to Iraq. In addition, the genocide in Darfur became another focus for activists.

● From 2004 to 2006, the reduced Israeli-Palestinian fighting led to a further decline in anti-Israeli expressions at UC Berkeley.

Background: UC Berkeley

The University of California at Berkeley was established on 23 March 1868 and was the product of a merger in Oakland, California, between the College of California (a private institution) and the Agricultural, Mining, and Mechanical Arts College (a land-grant institution). The University of California as a whole was created by the Organic Act. Until North and South Hall were completed in Berkeley, California, the College of California’s space was used. The antique South Hall building is still standing today. In 1873, upon the completion of building the new university, 191 students moved from Oakland to Berkeley.

UC Berkeley is the oldest college in the ten-campus University of California system and is famous for its many contributions to the sciences, including a key role in developing both the nuclear and hydrogen bomb. UC Berkeley is also well known for its history of student activism. The Free Speech Movement (1964), a protest that began when the university tried to remove political pamphleteers from campus, and the People’s Park riots (1969) were all part of the 1960s wave of international student protest associated with the counterculture.1

The University of California is a public university system with a combined student body of more than 191,000, over 1,340,000 living alumni, and an endowment of over $5 billion. UC Berkeley’s funding from the state of California for 2006-2007 totaled $3.077 billion.2

 

Activism on Campus

Issues that inspire student activism at Berkeley include wars fought far from the university and matters that do not affect California students directly. Recently, the campus’s level of political activity has correlated with the state of affairs in the Middle East. In particular, the combination of political ideologies and ethnic/religious/regional identifications on campus resulted in major agitation connected to the Second Intifada that began in 2000.

The Arab-Israeli Conflict on Campus

Berkeley‘s Activist History

The eruption of the Second Intifada sparked hostile reactions at UC Berkeley, fostering the impression in students that extremism was socially acceptable there.3 Reactions of that kind can be attributed to a number of factors. In particular, Berkeley’s history of highly politicized activism draws impassioned and outspoken student leaders to the university from across the country. Miki Weinberg chose Berkeley after high school “because of its strong romantic aura of the Free Speech Movement…. Then I got here and discovered that the light seems to have been extinguished. You have this vitriol. You felt it everywhere. Berkeley is now the epicenter of real hatred.”

In the 1990s, Berkeley’s predominantly left-wing student body and faculty adopted Palestine as their new political cause after the demise of the Cold War and communism. Israel is now cast as the criminal denier of the Palestinian state, inciter of violence, and ultimate violator of human rights. Terms used by anti-Israeli activists include apartheid, atrocities, genocide, fascist, Nazi, racist, and terrorist.5

When the Civil Rights Movement reached California in the 1960s, it was almost entirely led by UC Berkeley students. Hence, UC Berkeley prides itself on a history of fighting to eradicate racism and promote equality.6 Shortly after the start of the Second Intifada, however, Zionism became almost entirely synonymous with racism and bigotry on campus. Miki Weinberg recalls a newspaper article “that described me as an outspoken Zionist-as if that was a bad thing.”

Anti-Semitism and Hate Crimes during the Intifada

The violence of the Second Intifada sparked outright expressions of anti-Semitism against pro-Israeli students at UC Berkeley. From 2000 to 2004, numerous student testimonials depict cases of hate crime, discrimination, vandalism of Jewish centers, and intimidation of those who showed support for Israel.

Twenty-three-year-old Aaron Schwartz had an encounter with blatant anti-Semitism on the Berkeley campus:

After a Simchat Torah celebration the night of 9 October 2001,  Schwartz was at the tail end of a group of revelers making their way back to Berkeley Hillel on Bancroft Avenue after dancing on U.C. Berkeley’s Sproul Plaza. After crossing the street, Schwartz noticed a man mocking the overtly Jewish procession. He said the man was raising his arm in a sieg heil salute while goose-stepping in place….8

In August 2003, Susana Klein, a student of Arabic, charged her Iraqi graduate-student instructor Abbas Kadhim of the Near Eastern Studies Department with anti-Semitism. Kadhim said in response that: “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a document Nazis used as propaganda against the Jews, was written by Jews and was not a forgery, as many historians believe.” Kadhim and many of the students in Klein’s class dismissed her charges and asserted that the teacher was “simply presenting a viewpoint held by many Iraqis, explaining the conventional wisdom of Iraqis in a social context.”9

Daniel Frankenstein ran for student-body president in 2003. He recalls, “One girl working on my campaign was followed around by someone who kept asking her, ‘Are you a Jewgirl? Frankenstein is a Jew, so isn’t everyone who’s working for him a Jew?'” These incidents convinced Frankenstein that “it is really socially acceptable to be anti-Semitic on the Berkeley campus.”10

Pro-Palestinian Hostilities Reflecting Middle Eastern Events

The Second Intifada did not set the precedent for pro-Palestinian activity on campus. Pro-Palestinians have consistently mobilized according to the level of violence in the Middle East. Both the First and Second intifadas inspired outrage among Palestinian supporters at UC Berkeley.

During a spate of terrorist bombings in Israel in the spring of 1996, a group of men — it is not known whether they all were Berkeley students — marched down Sproul Plaza chanting “Hizballah! Hizballah!” They praised the individual Palestinians responsible for two bus bombings, a bus-stop bombing, and a shopping-mall bombing that had killed a total of sixty-seven in the preceding two weeks. One member of the group proclaimed his willingness to serve as a martyr, then trampled and spat on an Israeli flag. Before the protest, “Zionism is fascism” had been chalked on sidewalks around the campus.11

Anti-Israeli activism on campus reached a peak, however, in spring 2002 when the Second Intifada was at its deadliest. One of the most overt hate crimes took place on 27 March 2002 during Passover at the Hillel Center. The glass front door of the building was smashed with a cement block. Additionally, one of its recycling bins was defaced with anti-Semitic statements.12

On 9 April 2002, nearly eighty protesters, many of them members of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), were arrested by the UC Berkeley police for violently disrupting the Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony. The charges included unlawful occupation, resisting arrest, and in one case, biting a policeman. In addition, the university suspended SJP’s official privileges and charged the arrested students with violating its Code of Student Conduct.

That same day, Students for Justice in Palestine commemorated the alleged Deir Yassin massacre of 1948. By noon, six hundred to a thousand students — mostly Palestinian supporters though not all — were waving signs that read “Israel lovers are the Nazis of our time” and chanting “Anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism.” Meanwhile, a Jewish pro-Palestinian activist named Micah Bazant, who also is the son of a Holocaust survivor, began reciting the Kaddish — the Jewish prayer for the dead — in honor of those who died at Deir Yassin.13

Shortly thereafter, on 15 April, Muslim student groups posted fliers with distorted and fabricated quotations from the Talmud and other Jewish religious literature, including: “A Jew is permitted to rape, cheat and perjure himself, but he must take care that he is not found out, so that Israel may not suffer”; “The Jews are human beings, but the nations of the world are not human beings but beasts”; “When the Messiah comes, every Jew will have 2,800 slaves.”14

The course catalog for the fall semester, distributed that spring, offered an authorized English course titled “The Politics and Poetics of Palestinian Resistance.” The lecturer, Snehal Shingavi, said the course was “largely a symbolic action, in solidarity with Palestine.”15 One required text was The New Intifada: Resisting Israel‘s Apartheid.16 The course description stated that it would address

the brutal Israeli military occupation of Palestine, an occupation that has been ongoing since 1948, has systematically displaced, killed, and maimed millions of Palestinian people…. This class will examine the history of the Palestinian resistance and the way that it is narrated by Palestinians in order to produce an understanding of the Intifada….Conservative thinkers are encouraged to seek other sections.

By the time the English Department issued a statement acknowledging the course as discriminatory and an oversight of supervision, the class was full and the lecturer had boasted about the waiting list. The course was eventually prohibited, and Shingavi altered the official description.17

 

Taking Back the Campus: The Transition

After 2004, when the Israeli-Palestinian fighting declined, the anti-Israeli activists shifted their attention from Israel for several reasons. First and foremost, the reelection of President George W. Bush led them to focus heavily on the war in Iraq. The ongoing genocide in Darfur also mobilized many of those who may otherwise have participated in anti-Israeli agitation. Finally, off-campus organizations such as AIPAC provided the resources to convert UC Berkeley into “an asset to the pro-Israel movement.”18 

Pro-Israeli Training

When the Second Intifada first energized the campus pro-Palestinians, many pro-Israeli students felt bewildered by the attacks and hatred. Both the level of blatant anti-Semitism and the university’s toleration of it were unprecedented. Off campus, Jewish advocacy organizations began to invest in training and resources for pro-Israeli students. Among these organizations, many students regard AIPAC as particularly effective.

AIPAC has been involved with campuses across the country, particularly since the start of the Second Intifada. Each year AIPAC’s Political Leadership Development Program (PLDP) invites hundreds of students for intensive political-advocacy training at biannual seminars in Washington.19 These students from across the country are empowered with strategic initiatives to promote the pro-Israeli movement on college campuses. The PLDP has directly strengthened the pro-Israeli effort at UC Berkeley and many other colleges.

AIPAC is particularly active with over sixty “showcase” campuses that have been identified as especially vital to the pro-Israeli movement. In addition, there are AIPAC cadres on over 150 campuses across the United States. Universities with AIPAC-trained activists include historically African American and Christian universities.

Each academic year the PDLP’s field organizers work with cadre members from the showcase campuses. “Portfolioed” (strong student leaders with AIPAC training) student activists and pro-Israeli students at large can also participate in AIPAC’s annual Policy Conference, National Summit, regional leadership training seminars, and in Capital to Capital: AIPAC birthright israel Program.20

At the various functions, AIPAC helps students plan strategies for dealing with detractors and construct networks of pro-Israeli students throughout the U.S. universities. AIPAC has essentially created a home base for pro-Israeli activists, making their activities more organized and efficient.

Today, AIPAC-trained student advocates lobby the various UC chancellors. On the national level, they lobby local congressmen. They build contacts with editors of university newspapers and other campus media, and with student-body presidents and other members of student governments.

In efforts to disassociate Israel from conflict and war, AIPAC activists work with leaders outside the realm of politics. For example, the Israel Action Committee, Berkeley Hillel’s pro-Israeli group, collaborated with the Computer Science Department to showcase Israel’s technological contributions to the West. AIPAC also encourages its trained advocates to broaden their base of allies, especially targeting the Hispanic and African American communities.

Jewish and pro-Israeli institutions stationed on campuses have also contributed to mobilizing pro-Israeli students. Hillel in particular is a partner in the efforts to combat anti-Israelism on campus. Hillel provides a safe physical home for Jewish students as well as a cultural and social community where potential pro-Israeli students can self-identify.

Anti-Israeli elements will continue to be active at UC Berkeley and other universities. At UC Berkeley in particular there has been progress in cultivating pro-Israeli cooperation between students, professors, and the administration.

New Spotlight in the Middle East: Iraq

At UC Berkeley, where there are more registered Green Party voters than Republicans, the vast majority supported Democratic candidate John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election. Out of a student sample of 555, 89.6 percent voted for Kerry based primarily on the issues of the economy and Iraq. Students expressed fears about a potential military draft and about job prospects after graduation.21 Regarding the Middle East, students were relatively less focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, concentrating instead on U.S. policy in Iraq.

Bush’s reelection sparked massive activities by his opponents, focusing particularly on the human rights violations at the Abu Ghraib detention facility in Iraq. Many UC Berkeley students held Bush almost single-handedly responsible for the abuse of the Iraqi prisoners, such as a student who contributed this statement to MSNBC.com:

The actions of the soldiers at Abu Ghraib seemed incomprehensible to Berkeley students…. Soldiers are internalizing the president’s rhetoric and rationalizing it as true. Our political leaders are preying on the innocence of our young people who take the rhetoric of oppression at face value. They encourage us not to think of Iraqis as human beings. It’s no wonder, then, that average Americans could treat Iraqis so inhumanely.22

Recent Berkeley graduate Robby Kaufman received AIPAC’s Duke Rudman Annual Leadership Award for his excellence in pro-Israeli advocacy on campus. Asked to account for the shift in the anti-Israeli activists’ focus, he said,

I think the campus changed . . . for several reasons. One is that the political realities in the Middle East changed; there was less Israeli-Palestinian violence, and thus less for Students for Justice in Palestine to protest. I also think the war in Iraq took over the agenda. There was some attempt to parallel Iraq to Palestine and a call for an end to both occupations.23

Many anti-Israeli groups at UC Berkeley indeed associated the occupation of Iraq with the occupation of the Palestinian territories. However, the correlation dissipated with time as the activists focused more and more on the antiwar cause.

Campus Outrage: Genocide in Darfur

Particularly in 2005, the genocide in Darfur also became a focus of campus activism. Students throughout the University of California lobbied for the divestment of Sudan as they had previously regarding Israel. For example,

Students Taking Action Now: Darfur, a national organization with a presence at UC Berkeley, has been mobilizing university students against the genocide…. Their broader goals [include] a petition for the UC Board of Regents to divest from companies operating in Sudan. Now after years of protesting for UC to divest from Israel, that campaign seems to have lost much of its momentum.24

*    *    *

Notes

* Most of the students cited in this case study were leaders in the pro-Israeli movement on the UC Berkeley campus. The sources include Berkeley’s independent student newspaper Daily Cal; the Berkeley College Republicans’ publication The Patriot; Campus Watch, a website that monitors anti-Israeli activities; pro-Israeli organizations such as AIPAC and ADL, and other news sources.

1 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/University_of_California,_Berkeley.

2 www.berkeley.edu/news/budget/.

3 “Berkeley Intifada,” Eastbayexpress.com, 19 May 2004.

4  Ibid.

5 www.eastbayexpress.com/2005-05-19/feature.html.

6 www.museumca.org/picturethis/5_2.html.

7 www.campus-watch.org/article/id/2097.

8 “Berkeley Intifada.”

9 www.campus-watch.org/article/id/2097.

10 “Berkeley Intifada.”

11 www.museumca.org/picturethis/5_2.html.

12 www.jafi.org.il/agenda/2001/english/wk3-14/10.asp.

13 www.eastbayexpress.com/2004-05-19/news/berkeley-intifada/full.

14 http://www.adl.org/.

15 www.calpatriot.org/magazine/issue/7/5/the-left-files.

16 www.amazon.com/New-Intifada-Resisting-Israels-Apartheid/dp/1859843778.

17 www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/ReadArticle.asp?ID=13496.

18 http://www.aipac.org/.

19 These are, specifically, the Schusterman Advocacy Institute/Saban National Political Leadership Training Seminars.

20 http://www.aipac.org/.

21 www.dailycal.org/sharticle.php?id=16784.

22 www.msnbc.msn.com/id/4982092/site/newsweek.

23 Personal communication, Robby Kaufman, UC Berkeley class of 2006.

24 www.dailycal.org/sharticle.php?id=20403.

*     *     *

Beata Shneyer graduated from UC Berkeley in the spring of 2006, completing her undergraduate studies in political science. She was heavily involved in the pro-Israeli movement on and off campus, including membership of the AIPAC cadres for two years. She was a reserach assistant at the JCPA in 2006. Her research subjects included academic boycotts against Israel and a case study of anti-Israeli activity on the UC Berkeley campus.

Beata Shneyer

Beata Shneyer is a graduate of UC Berkeley where she was heavily involved in the pro-Israeli movement on and off campus, including membership of the AIPAC campus leadership for two years. She was a research assistant at the Jerusalem Center in 2006.