Berkeley’s Jewish-Free Zones Are Worse Than You Think

Berkeley Law’s students have institutionalized an ancient ideology of hate, incorporating it into the legal DNA of their major identity groups.
October 9, 2022
(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

For all the resistance that Berkeley’s enablers have generated, the facts are undisputed and indisputable. Berkeley Law’s students have institutionalized an ancient ideology of hate, incorporating it into the legal DNA of their major identity groups. In doing so, they have embodied this bigotry in a dangerous new form of silencing and exclusion.

As Berkeley’s administration has conceded, nine Berkeley Law student groups amended their bylaws this academic year to prohibit Zionist speakers. It is important to be perfectly clear about what this means.  An expert on real estate law would not be permitted to impart real estate expertise to any of these groups if they also support the existence of one Jewish state among 22 Arab countries in the Middle East.  An expert in Title IX could not come speak to the women’s law group if they also support the right for Jewish liberation after thousands of years of anti-Jewish persecution and annihilation.  An expert in the legality of gay marriage or gender discrimination employment law could not speak to the LGBTQ+ group.

More than 80% of Jews support the existence of Israel as the Jewish homeland.  They might also strongly object to Israel’s policies on settlements, they might firmly advocate for improved Palestinian rights, but if they so much as support a two-state solution, they would be banned by these groups. Make no mistake, these are Jew-free zones, i.e., platforms or podia forbidden to Jews.

It is absurd to defend this, as Chancellor Christ and Dean Chemerinsky have done, as “less than ten groups out of 100.” Yes, nine is less than ten. These groups, however, represent wide swaths of the law school, including Berkeley Law’s women, Asian and Pacific Islander, African American, LGBTQ, and Middle Eastern student populations. To insinuate that this is less than ten percent, now that is misleading.

Berkeley’s administration rationalizes, rather obscenely, that Jewish students can join these groups as members even if not as speakers. If the first nine rows of the bus are barred to Jews, it shouldn’t matter that Jews get to sit in the back.

The truth, in fact, is the opposite of what Berkeley’s administration maintains. I have understated the case, not overstated it. To begin with, most of these groups incorporated the discriminatory provisions into their constitutions, not only their bylaws. That is to say, they baked anti-Zionism into their most basic charters. It is now as fundamental to their operations as, say, how they select officers.

Worse, they did this to advance the anti-Semitic Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. They are not only banning pro-Israel speakers. Their new constitutional provision dedicates these groups to “wholly boycotting, sanctioning, and divesting funds from institutions, organizations, companies, and any entity that participates in or is directly/indirectly complicit in the occupation of the Palestinian territories and/or supports the actions of the apartheid state of Israel.”

They are not, however, boycotting only Israel. They are boycotting American Jews.

But it gets even worse.

These nine groups’ constitutions and bylaws now place anti-Zionists in an entirely different position than any other group, no matter how vile.

Consider, for example, Berkeley’s Asian Pacific American Law Student Association. Their constitution tackles no other current controversies. They are clear, however about one issue: they will “not invite speakers that have expressed and continue to hold views … in support of Zionism, the apartheid state of Israel, and the occupation of Palestine.” Their constitution does not ban people who have assaulted Asian Americans, despite the surge in such crimes during COVID. Only people who support Israel are constitutionally banned – and they are banned from addressing any subject, not just Israel.

Berkeley’s Law Students of African Descent have done the same. Their constitution and bylaws do not ban white supremacists, neo-Nazis, or other anti-Black racists. They would not preclude an invitation to David Duke. Like other leaders of the Ku Klux Klan, Duke is a racist. This is not constitutionally disqualifying for Berkeley’s black law student organization, because Duke, like many other white supremacists, shares their view of Zionism.

Berkeley Law’s Queer Caucus is similar. Aside from Zionists, the Queer Caucus does not ban any other category of speaker. They do not, for example, ban homophobic or transphobic speakers. Whoever murdered Ahmad Abu Maria, the gay 25-year old Palestinian, would face no constitutional bar on speaking to Berkeley Law’s Queer Caucus, because they were not Zionists. During his lifetime, Ahmad Abu Maria would probably have been subject to the bar, since he sought asylum in Israel.

The Women of Berkeley Law do not, in their constitution and bylaws, ban sexist, misogynistic, or heterosexist speakers. They do not constitutionally ban rapists, child abusers, or those who engage in any form of sexual misconduct. Just Zionists. If an anti-Zionist misogynist were to sexually assault a Jewish woman under Sather Gate at the university’s entrance, the constitution of the Women of Berkeley Law would not ban the perpetrator from publicly addressing them. The victim, by contrast, would likely be banned.

Daniel Pearl, a Zionist victim of beheading, would have been constitutionally banned during his lifetime from speaking to any of these groups. His anti-Zionist murderers would not have been.

This behavior must be inexplicable to anyone who listens to Berkeley’s administration. It makes no sense if you believe Chancellor Christ’s recent message describing these actions as “nuanced thoughts and feelings” generated by a “crisis in the Middle East.” It is impossible to reconcile with Erwin Chemerinsky’s demonstrably false (not just misleading) claimthat “all some student groups have done is express their strong disagreement with Israel’s policies.”

To understand what is happening at Berkeley we need to grasp two things. First, this is no mere criticism of Israel. It is the newest iteration of an ancient ideology that places the Jew at the center of all evil. Jew-hatred has always been more the criticism of Jews. It is a worldview that explains all of the world’s pain as byproduct of Jewish criminality. This central fact, and only this central fact, can explain the behavior of these law students.

These groups have taken action, not merely expressed viewpoints. Constitutions and bylaws are not opinion pieces, not policy papers, not public fora. They are concise governance documents that establish fundamental rules, such as membership classifications, officers, and voting procedures.

And now, at Berkeley Law, they also bar Israel’s supporters from speaking to these organizations, not only about the Middle East, but about any topic. This includes the great majority of Jews. Chemerinsky concedes that he would be banned, as would 90% of Berkeley’s Jewish law students. No other group is banned in this way. Not rapists. Not axe murderers. Only Zionists are banned.

Second, these law students are pioneers, but not in a good way. They are pioneering a new form of Judeophobia which silences and excludes any Jew who does not adequately condemn the Jewish state.

Just as anti-Semites long excluded Jews from polite society, Berkeley’s future lawyers – many of whom will one day be our legislators, mayors, and judges – are now expelling Jews from progressive spaces.

Just as German Jews during the 19th century had to convert to Christianity to be allowed to participate in civil society and government office, American Jews in the 21st century are being forced to convert to anti-Zionism in order to participate in Berkeley’s civil society organizations, an ignominious process, which if not stopped, will only spread further.

This is an effort to strip all Jews of something basic: the trappings of normality that have secured Jewish safety and security in America.

While this is a story about Berkeley, it is not only a story about Berkeley. Berkeley is not Las Vegas. What happens there does not stay there. What begins there, and succeeds there, spreads elsewhere. And make no mistake: silencing Jews is the way such stories begin, not the way they end.

Some in the Jewish community say that we are too alarmed over this. The real problem is that we are not alarmed enough.

Kenneth L. Marcus is founder and chairman of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law. He served as the 11th Assistant U.S. Secretary of Education for Civil Rights.

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