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UC Berkeley ought to hold Hatem Bazian accountable for anti-Semitic discourse

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On Nov. 20, UC Berkeley lecturer Hatem Bazian got caught retweeting something blatantly anti-Semitic. The founder of Students for Justice in Palestine, or SJP, Bazian tweeted photos mocking Jews as entitled people who “kill, rape, smuggle organs & steal the land of Palestinians.” The cherry on top was the hashtag “#ASHKE-NAZI” emblazoned on the meme. Another dropped a kippah on top of Kim Jong Un’s head with a caption of “NOW MY NUKES ARE LEGAL.

UC Berkeley’s response to this particular incident got it right. Speaking for the administration, spokesman Dan Mogulof said, “While we do not believe that all criticism of Israel’s governmental policies is inherently anti-Semitic, the social media posts in question clearly crossed the line”. Bazian indeed did cross that line — a line that fewer and fewer faculty members seem to respect — and was forced to publicly apologize. But was this an isolated case? Unfortunately, no.

Bazian is no stranger to accusations of anti-Semitism. When he was still a student, he allegedly and infamously told an SJP rally, “Take a look at the type of names on the buildings around campus — Haas, Zellerbach — and decide who controls this university.”

And why was SJP holding a rally that day? To protest the dozens of arrests made of SJP activists who disrupted a Holocaust Remembrance Day rally just days earlier.

That Bazian actually apologized this time might be a small miracle, but how can we accept something that was clearly contrived? With his back against the wall and a rare lack of support from UC Berkeley administration, he gave in. But what consequences will he face? Can we honestly say Bazian’s reputation or wallet will suffer for his repeated use of anti-Semitic tropes, disguised behind a veil of supposedly “anti-Zionist” political discourse?

After last month’s rolling controversies at Rutgers University, in which Professor Michael Chikindas allegedly implied Jews were responsible for the Armenian genocide, are we seriously going to just accept flat apologies? Bazian allegedly appropriated classic anti-Semitic blood libels as part of his activism, and in a speech he used the word “intifada” — a word that has been associated with the armed Palestinian struggle against Israel.

While Rutgers will struggle with punishing a tenured professor such as Chikindas, there is something UC Berkeley can do. Despite a long career as an instructor, Bazian still does not have that professorship. Bazian’s repeated offenses justify not only withholding the promotion, but also dismissing him from UC Berkeley entirely.

Instructors’ opinions gain credibility when they get to preface them with the “professor” title. It is a disgrace to allow activists to abuse their positions in this way and a crime against sincerely active professors who don’t use their positions as a soapbox to give hate an academic stamp of approval.

If universities want to define the lines between hate speech and politics, they need to hold their instructors accountable when they cross the lines. Do not sweep this incident up along with all the others. We cannot reward Bazian for this behavior. Bazian must go.

Nathan Bentolila is the vice president of Tikvah, and Adah Forer and Daniella ​Melamed are the co-presidents of Tikvah. They represent the views of the Tikvah Executive Board.

DECEMBER 05, 2017