Pro-Palestinian Protest at Jewish Berkeley Law Dean’s Dinner Roils Campus

Jane Tyska/Getty
Jane Tyska/Getty

A confrontation between a UC Berkeley law professor and a student protester got physical on Tuesday, becoming the latest campus flare-up over Gaza.

At a dinner for third-year law students that coincided with the last day of Ramadan, Malak Afaneh, co-president of Berkeley Law Students for Justice in Palestine (LSJP), rose to protest the school’s investment in arms manufacturers for Israel and the ongoing violence in Gaza.

A video of the incident quickly circulated around social media, with pro-Palestinian groups accusing law professor Catherine Fisk of “violently assaulting” Afaneh by trying to snatch her cellphone out of her hand, pulling at her clothes, and putting her arm around her as she told her to leave.

The dinner was hosted by the dean of the law school, Erwin Chemerinsky, and his wife, Fisk, in the backyard of their home. In a statement issued the next day, Chemerinsky, who is Jewish, said he was “saddened” by the protest but told students his home was “not a forum for free speech.”

“I am enormously sad that we have students who are so rude as to come into my home, in my backyard, and use this social occasion for their political agenda,” Chemerinsky wrote, adding that about 10 of the 60 students who attended left with Afaneh.

Chemerinsky also denounced a poster that Berkeley LSJP had shared on April 1, which included a caricature of him with a knife and fork and the slogan “No Dinner With Zionist Chem While Gaza Starves!”

“I never thought I would see such blatant antisemitism, with an image that invokes the horrible antisemitic trope of blood libel and that attacks me for no apparent reason other than I am Jewish,” Chemerinsky wrote in his statement.

But a coalition of Jewish law students at UC Berkeley contested that characterization of the flyer. They said that Chemerinsky’s pro-Israel political views, not his Jewish identity at large, were the subject of the protest.

In a statement provided to The Daily Beast, the students defended their LSJP peers and described Chemerinsky as “a self-avowed Zionist who has used his position as Dean to silence student voices” and maintain investments that “participate in the apartheid and genocide in Palestine.”

“As Jewish anti-Zionist law students, we firmly stand with the student protestors who attended the Dean’s dinner and with Law Students for Justice in Palestine,” they wrote. “We condemn as Islamophobic Professor Fisk’s use of physical force against a student and Dean Chemerinsky’s characterization of this student’s actions as ‘disruptive’ when her only actions at the dinner were to wear a hijab and acknowledge the holiday of Ramadan.”

The students also separated anti-Zionist speech critical of Israel from antisemitism at large. They accused Chemerinsky, a leading free speech scholar, of attempting to shut down criticism of Israel.

“Anti-Zionism is not antisemitism. The Dean conflates the two concepts, using accusations of antisemitism to delegitimize anti-Israel speech. As Jewish anti-Zionists, we condemn antisemitism as we fight for the rights of Palestinian people, and simultaneously condemn attempts to weaponize the concept in service of Zionism,” they wrote.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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