After violent protest, controversial pro-Israel speaker returns to UC Berkeley

(Hannah Wiley/Los Angeles Times)

After violent protest, controversial pro-Israel speaker returns to UC Berkeley

California politics, homepage news

Hannah Wiley

March 19, 2024

Three weeks after violence broke out at a private event organized by Jewish student groups at UC Berkeley and protested by pro-Palestinian demonstrators, the speech took place on Monday and went off without a hitch.

Pro-Palestinian protesters shut down an event organized by Pro-Israel student groups at UC Berkeley

Monday’s event was dramatically different from the one initially planned by several Jewish student groups on Feb. 26, when campus police evacuated the Zellerbach Playhouse after about 200 protesters forcibly entered the building.

UC Berkeley increased its police presence and hired private security for the event, which was held in the Pauley Ballroom on campus, and closed the building to anyone who had not registered. Faculty and university staff wearing yellow and blue “observer” signs roamed outside and through the building, along with others designated as peace ambassadors.

Jewish student groups including Tikvah, Bears for Israel and Students Supporting Israel, which describe themselves as Zionist organizations, moved the event to Monday, saying it was absolutely necessary for freedom of expression. The speaker was the controversial Israeli military reservist and lawyer Ran Bar-Yoshafat. There were about 150 people present.

After Chancellor Carol Christ and Provost Benjamin E. Hermalin initially condemned the Feb. 26 incident as a violation of the university’s “most fundamental values” and its commitment to freedom of expression, they announced a criminal investigation into the violence. Christ and Hermalin said campus police and the university’s anti-harassment office were investigating reports of “openly anti-Semitic speech” and allegations of physical injuries as hate crimes.

Federal authorities have also launched their own investigation into allegations of discrimination at UC Berkeley since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas.

In a Feb. 28 statement on social media, Bears for Palestine criticized the university and Jewish student groups for giving a platform to speakers like Bar-Yoshafat, saying Palestinian, Arab and other students also faced continued harassment and threats.

“Our Palestinian community has been in a constant, insurmountable state of grief for the past 144 days as the occupation continues to destroy the Gaza Strip in their genocidal military campaign,” the group wrote.

Violent protest at UC Berkeley leads to federal investigation into alleged discrimination

Unlike the February event, only a handful of demonstrators showed up with posters protesting Bar-Yoshafat and labeling the war in Gaza as genocide. One protester managed to enter the event and interrupted Bar-Yoshafat about 30 minutes into his speech.

“Shame on you all,” the protester shouted before being escorted out.

Sharon Knafelman, a sophomore who is vice president of Bears for Israel and a board member of Students Supporting Israel, attributed the otherwise calm speech to the fact that the university had stepped up enforcement.

“I think they’ve learned from their mistakes,” Knafelman said, adding that UC Berkeley’s job is to “set the tone for the rest of the United States for freedom of speech, which we respect and in which we allowing everyone to come and share their point of view. as long as it is done in a peaceful, civilized manner.”


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