A conference organized by the UC Berkeley Black Student Union this weekend will include a speech by religious leader Louis Farrakhan — an appearance that has sparked outcry from members of the campus Jewish community because of Farrakhan’s allegedly anti-Semitic comments.
The Afrikan Black Coalition Conference, which will be held at UC Berkeley Friday through Sunday, includes workshops, keynote speakers and social activities that students from across the university will participate in.
But it is the appearance of Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, that has some members of the campus community concerned. Students from the Jewish community in particular oppose his visit due to anti-Semitic, homophobic and other controversial statements they say Farrakhan has made.
“Farrakhan consistently espouses antisemitic conspiracy theories while negating the Jewish people’s right to their religion and their land,” said Jacob Lewis, co-president of the campus Jewish student group Tikvah, in a blog post. “Farrakhan’s hatred cannot be tolerated. It is unfathomable that the BSU has no issue in inviting such an abjectly offensive speaker to campus.”
The Anti-Defamation League, a prominent civil rights group that works to combat anti-Semitism, has also criticized various comments made by Farrakhan in the past.
Salih Muhammad, chair of the campus Black Student Union, said the speakers for the conference were chosen based on who the union felt would provide “a sense of self-determination” to conference attendees.
“It’s not about any individual speaker,” Muhammad said. He added that the conference is limited to students who register beforehand and that Farrakhan will therefore not be addressing the entire campus community but only a particular group of students.
“Those students are well in their right to subject themselves to anything he says,” Muhammad said.
The issue was discussed at last week’s ASUC Senate meeting when SQUELCH! Senator Noah Ickowitz pulled a bill supporting funding the conference. Ickowitz read several quotes from Farrakhan and said they were “hate speech in its most raw form.”
However, members of the Black Student Union and some of the senators pointed out that the bill itself did not mention Farrakhan’s name.
“This bill is strictly a funding bill,” said CalSERVE Senator Kevin Williams at the meeting.
Despite concerns, the senate passed the bill unanimously to provide $1,340 in funding for the conference.
According to Jewish Student Union President Arielle Gabai, the union hopes to meet with members of the Black Student Union and Dean of Students Jonathan Poullard to have a dialogue this week about the issue.
“Louis Farrakhan is someone who will make people on this campus feel isolated, hated, demeaned and silenced,” Ickowitz said, though he chose to vote for the bill because he did not want to deprive the entire conference of funding.