November 22, 2018

UC Berkeley SJP to Host Vigil Equating Pittsburgh Shooting to Israel’s Actions in Gaza

Photo from Flickr.

UC Berkeley’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter will be hosting a vigil with Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) that equates the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh to Israel’s actions in Gaza, according to Berkeley SJP’s Facebook page.

The vigil was initially scheduled for Thursday; Berkeley SJP’s post described it as an event to honor “the lives of those lost to violence and hate at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and the Palestinians killed in Gaza by settlers and Israeli state violence in the month of October.”

“Eleven people were killed after a gunman opened fire on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on Saturday, October 27th,” the event page read. “That same weekend, three children in Gaza were murdered in an Israeli airstrike of the thirty-one Palestinians killed by the Israeli military in the month of October alone. From Pittsburgh to Gaza, we condemn violence in the name of white supremacy.”

Tikvah, a pro-Israel student organization at UC Berkeley, posted on Facebook in response that they were “disgusted and appalled” by the vigil.

We are utterly disgusted and appalled by the audacity of SJP to hold their vigil tomorrow night. Students for Justice in…

Posted by Tikvah: Students for Israel on Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Tikvah also promoted an event on their Facebook page scheduled for Nov. 22 to stand up to anti-Semitism.

Nathan Bentolila, president of Tikvah and a third-year bioengineering student at UC Berkeley and a StandWithUs fellow, told the Journal in a phone interview SJP never once reached out to them or any other Jewish organizations regarding Sunday’s vigil and they did not represent themselves at the vigil.

“They’re not doing it for the victims, because if they were, they would have participated in our vigil, they’re doing this to promote a political agenda, and frankly it’s really disgusting they’re doing this, and it’s anti-Semitism” Bentolila said. “There’s no other way to characterize it.”

Berkeley’s SJP’s event page for the vigil was deleted; their page now shows the vigil being held on Nov. 22 instead with the accompanying statement from JVP:

We deleted the original event page out of concern for attendees’ safety and the threat of online harassment. We will be rescheduling promptly at a later date. 

Our intention for this event is for our communities, Progressive Jews and Palestinians, to come together to grieve during these difficult times. Just as we organize in solidarity, we mourn in solidarity. We reject any attempts to politicize our communities coming together to mourn.

Rooted in Jewish values of social justice, Jewish Voice for Peace believes that safety comes through solidarity with marginalized communities rather than militarization. Together we heal, united we fight.

Bentolila said that the university should address the matter by issuing a public statement condemning the vigil and look into sensitivity training regarding anti-Semitism.

“Clearly there is a lack of sensitivity on campus toward Jewish students,” Bentolila said, pointing out that SJP once protested a mural celebrating Jewish life in Israel.

Bentolila added that he didn’t think the university was doing enough to address anti-Semitism on campus in general.

“Jewish students have felt this way and have experienced these sort of problems for many years, so clearly something isn’t being done,” Bentolila said.

UC Berkeley’s SJP, JVP and the university did not respond to the Journal’s requests for comment as of publication time.