When I recently heard that the keynote speaker for the Afrikan Black Coalition Conference was going to be Minister Louis Farrakhan, I was disappointed. For a campus that prides itself on openness and inclusivity I can’t think of a more divisive speaker. When Farrakhan spoke at a national convention just last month in Chicago, he spouted classic anti-Semitic rhetoric, such as “Did you know that the Koran says that Jews are the most violent of people? I didn’t write it, but I’m living to see it.” In addition, by suggesting that “In 100 years, (Jews) control movies, television, recording, publishing, commerce, radio, they own it all,” he reinforced a classic and offensive anti-Semitic sentiment regarding Jews and power.
Berkeley is a campus where the student body takes pride in raising up its voice against injustice, but where are the students protesting one of their own groups bringing a speaker whom President Barack Obama criticized and from whom he refused to accept support? Where are the students rejecting a guest to this internationally-acclaimed university who is himself the antithesis of the values of Berkeley? Supporting Berkeley’s values does not mean only inviting individuals with whom we agree – on the contrary, the university spirit is one that embraces challenging ideas and thoughts. Berkeley culture trains students to be think critically and to be open to diverse opinions. But there is a limit. Often times it is difficult to judge that limit, but from my standpoint any speaker who expresses such hate and intolerance does a disservice to this community.
UC Berkeley has always been a forward-thinking university, one that challenges the status quo. Giving Farrakhan, a man who has espoused statements of hatred and intolerance, a platform at Berkeley only tarnishes the reputation and good name of this university.
Berkeley is best known for its battle for free speech. By bringing Farrakhan to speak on this campus we call this essential value into question. Those of us who most believe in freedom lose the battle of free speech to those who have always said it is too dangerous. As a professional who works everyday to help Jewish students feel welcome in the Berkeley community, these actions could not be more detrimental to Jews and the countless other students on this campus that Farrakhan has demonized or attacked.
Berkeley students, show the world what free speech truly means and counter this ugly reprehensible speech with good speech. Model to the world what free speech is all about, because if you don’t, the fight to make education relevant and fair to all will be for naught.
Rabbi Adam Naftalin-Kelman is the executive director of Berkeley Hillel.