Pro-Palestine versus Pro-Israel events continue long history of contention between groups

Pro-Palestine and Pro-Israel groups square off at a mock checkpoint set up by Students for Justice in Palestine.
Tony Zhou/File
Pro-Palestine and Pro-Israel groups square off at a mock checkpoint set up by Students for Justice in Palestine.

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Students for Justice in Palestine and Tikvah Students for Israel recently sponsored events with opposite messages about Israel-Palestine affairs, which reflected an ongoing history of contention between the two groups.

The Israeli Apartheid Week, sponsored by Students for Justice in Palestine, and simultaneous Israeli Peace and Diversity Week, sponsored by Tikvah, continued long-standing disputes between the groups, which have involved disagreements over mock checkpoints, a lawsuit and allegations of harassment over the years. The Office of the Dean of Students will meet with student leaders from several organizations Monday to assess the events and to “re-establish rules of engagement moving forward,” according to Dean of Students Jonathan Poullard.

Mock checkpoints on Sproul Plaza Feb. 28 meant to portray the situation on the Israel-Palestine border were the main source of contention during Apartheid Week. Student actors and members of Students for Justice in Palestine participated in the mock checkpoints.

The checkpoints were established in Israel following terrorist attacks by Palestinian militia groups, with the aim of ensuring security. Students for Justice in Palestine contends that checkpoints infringe upon the human rights of Palestinians, but Tikvah members opposed the mock checkpoints with signs reading “Fiction ahead.”

According to Emiliano Huet-Vaughn, a UC Berkeley graduate student and member of Students for Justice in Palestine, the events of Apartheid Week were not intended to criticize Israeli culture but Israeli government policies that he said “punish millions of Palestinian civilians under the pretext of national security.”

David Sverdlov, co-president of Tikvah, said violence at the checkpoints occurs rarely and not to the extent that pro-Palestine students claim.

“Under any pressure you’re going to have incidents that are not perfect, but luckily Israel is a democracy, and luckily problems that do occur at checkpoints are documented and soldiers are prosecuted,” he said.

Both student groups have also reported vandalism of each others’ signboards in previous years, especially during Apartheid Week.

Huet-Vaughn said vandalism of Students for Justice in Palestine’s signboards was reported to UCPD in 2007, 2010 and 2011, and Tikvah co-president Jacob Lewis said Tikvah’s signboard was vandalized last year during Israeli Peace and Diversity Week.

“We are not accusing anyone of the vandalism, but I do think it came from the hostility that Students for Justice in Palestine has fostered,” Lewis said.

The campus has tried to bring together the two groups in the past, though tensions remain.

“No direct attempt has been made to pull these two student organizations together since 2008, rather the Office of the Dean of Students and the Center for Student Leadership has worked with the groups individually to address concerns and assist in providing strategies/counsel for their activities, especially as it relates to protest issues,” Poullard said in an email.

Sverdlov said dialogue is compromised by events like mock checkpoints.

“Tikvah is unwilling to meet with us, and I am skeptical that something good would come out of dialogue,” said Tom Pessah, graduate student and Students for Justice in Palestine board member.

And hostilities between the two groups have extended beyond campus disagreements to the courts and student government.

A recently filed amended complaint to a lawsuit — dismissed with a leave to amend in December — alleges that the university has not provided a safe atmosphere for Jewish students and that it violated Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution by allowing the construction of checkpoints during Apartheid Week in 2011.

“The university has a responsibility beyond free speech to create a safe place on campus for students,” said Brian Maissy, Tikvah member and plaintiff for the complaint.

Huet-Vaughn said the lawsuit was baseless. According to Vice Chancellor for Equity and Inclusion Gibor Basri, the campus has taken the position that the lawsuit had no merit because it addressed activities protected under the First Amendment.

Campus tensions also emerged in March 2010, when an ASUC Senate bill calling for the campus administration and the UC Board of Regents to divest from companies that support the “occupation of the Palestinian territories” was vetoed by then-ASUC president Will Smelko.

Basri said he would encourage students to make distinctions between strongly disagreeing with political opinions and “issues of actual safety” that are not threatened by political conflict.

“The campus cannot prevent a variety of political opinions from being expressed, and it does everything it can to ensure students’ safety,” he said.

Sybil Lewis covers Berkeley communities.

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  • MorganFreiheit

    – University of Michigan students seek Boycott, Divestment, & Sanctions against Israeli apartheid, at

  • Former Cal Student

    this article is a complete waste of space… You’re not looking at it from an academic perspective, and yet you represent a student newspaper? Obviously, the views are not “opposite.” That’s for one. One of them is telling a story that is not often heard, while the other group is clamoring for silence and seeking to confuse the issues. In the larger context of what is historically occurring,  it’s on you as journalists to tell us what’s up; you don’t do that and claim it’s for the sake of “objectivity.” That is so sad and tired. Can you please come correctly and let us know what is really going on? Obviously the Palestinian people are facing the longest standing colonial-settler violence in the  modern world, why is that not mentioned at any point? Have you not taken any classes on post-colonial studies?  

    • Guest

       Jews have lived in Israel for three thousand years.  Most of the Palestinians are descended from Egyptians who immigrated in the last 100 years.  Who’s the colonists now?

      • Former Cal Student

        Guest, I am going to ignore the warning signs of radiating stupidity that is bursting from your oversimplification and assume you are a student, ie: you are supposed to be intelligent? Okay, so let me deconstruct your bullshit statements… 
        1. The three monotheistic religions, including Judaism, all stem from that area, as such, and as should be entirely obvious even if you DON’T understand the history of the land, you can properly assume that there exist Palestinian Christians, Palestinian Muslims and Palestinian Jews. 
        2. “Most of the Palestinians are descended from Egyptians who immigrated in the last 100 years” so… it’s 2012 now, subtract 100 years, we arrive at the year 1912, during which, please edify us oh intelligent one (idiot), what exactly triggered this “historical event” (in other words, the fake history you just invented from behind your lame anonymity) that led to the mass migration of millions of Egyptians of mixed religious background who wanted to change their identity to Palestinian? 
        3.  Israelis are, in fact, (surprisingly, despite your brilliant comment), “colonists” (btw: there is no such word, but I get that you’re trying to say colonialists), because they are in fact invading land militarily and settling it illegally, and have been doing so since the formation of their state, which is not thousands of years old but in fact, 64. 

        • Marco

          Israel’s international “birth certificate” was validated by all three ancient Biblical texts;  Jewish settlement from the time of Joshua onward; the Balfour Declaration of 1917; the League of Nations Mandate, which incorporated the Balfour Declaration; the United Nations partition resolution of 1947; Israel’s admission to the UN in 1949; the recognition of Israel by most other states; and, most of all, the society created by Israel’s people in decades of thriving, dynamic national existence.

          The question of statehood was resolved at the United Nations, with the 1947 U.N.  partition plan (a Jewish State and an Arab State). However, six Arab armies invaded the newly formed state of Israel, in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to destroy it. It is ironic that Palestinian Arabs now seek statehood via a path they have rejected for the Israelis all these years.  Remember, the banner of Islam already flies over 99.9% of the Middle East land mass.

  • Lemuel Smith

    There is no “Pro-Palestine” side, there is merely an Anti-Israel faction. The supposedly “Pro-Palestinian” faction encourages and supports positions which are terribly detrimental to the individual lives of “Palestinians.”  If there was not a Jewish State created  in Israel in 1948,  the designation of  “Palestinian” would have never been invented as there  had never been an “Arab Nation of Palestine”, nor in fact, a consistantly ethnically congruent population since the expulsion of the Jews by the Romans.  Under the Ottoman Turkish empire, pre-state Israel was sparsely populated by Jews, Christians, and multitude of ethnically diverse, Muslim enclaves. n “Palestinian” was a political label , invented in 1964 by the Arab League, not an ethnic or tribal identity.

  • decal

    Don’t expect a racist state to go down easily.

    • Cal Alumni

      Are you referring to the proposed Palestinian state that their leaders have stated they will not allow a single Jew to live in? The Saudi state which won’t even allow non-Muslims to enter certain cities? Jordan and Lebanon who deny basic rights to perpetual Palestinian refugees?

      Certainly you don’t mean Israel, the only country in the Middle East where Arab men and women have full civil rights. Certainly not the State of Israel, whose Declaration of Independence codifies equal rights for all its citizens. Certainly you are not referring to Israel, where the Arab minority is represented proportionally in the parliament, who has an Arab justice on its supreme court.

      You must be referring to one of those other countries, not Israel. Unless you live in some sort of fact-free bubble world of your own.

  • libsrclowns

    I want to see Mock Rocket launchings

    • Current student

       how about mock honor killings?

      • libsrclowns

        Mock stonings