Community members protest ASUC bill condemning Bears for Palestine

Sunny Shen/Staff

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More than 200 people attended the ASUC Senate’s University and External Affairs Committee meeting Monday on ASUC Senator Milton Zerman’s contentious bill titled “Condemning Bears for Palestine for Their Display in Eshleman Hall Glorifying Violent Terrorists.”

The bill, Senate Resolution No. 2019/2020-032, asks the ASUC to condemn campus student group Bears for Palestine, or BFP, for its cubicle display in Eshleman Hall that includes photos of Palestinian activists, some of whom have allegedly perpetrated terrorist acts.

The meeting was moved from its original location in a smaller room to the senate chambers to accommodate a large number of public commenters.

After the meeting was called to order, ASUC Senator Shelby Weiss motioned to move guest announcements and public comment before any official business, which was accepted. More than 110 people signed up to comment during the meeting.

The first speaker yielded their time to Zerman, who commented on the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a secular Palestinian socialist group with which several of the controversial women in the display are associated.

The Popular Front terrorist group is not Muslim; it was a secular group,” Zerman said at the meeting. “Their members are godless and so are the Bears for Palestine.”

Zerman’s speech elicited yelling and ridicule from audience members supporting BFP, while people supporting the Zionist cause clapped.

Campus graduate student Zach Blumenstein said during his public comment at the meeting that he does not consider Palestinian activism a threat to the Jewish community.

“In these last couple months and years, we’ve seen a wave of anti-Semitic killings that have made it truly terrifying to be a Jew,” Blumenstein said at the meeting. “We need to clearly identify this threat and root it out. The threat is white nationalism.”

Throughout the meeting, the room was very tense, and members of the opposing opinions frequently exchanged verbal insults during the different speeches.

Later in the meeting, a woman recorded a BFP speaker who had asked not to be recorded. The woman was asked to leave by ASUC Senator Media Sina, who chairs the committee. Zerman, who was sitting with a group of his supporters, said that the woman speaking was just “scared to be on video supporting terrorism.”

Zerman shouted several other insults at speakers over the course of the evening, including calling Sina a “coward” for making the woman videotaping leave.

Berkeley Hillel’s Student Board president Josh Greenberg said at the meeting that he felt the student government should prioritize helping Jewish students feel heard on campus.

“The ASUC condemning this display is not taking a side on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Greenberg said at the meeting in support of Zerman’s bill. “We students are capable enough to understand the difference between glorifying an activist and glorifying a terrorist.”

As Zionist protesters spoke in favor of Zerman’s bill, audience members called the speakers’ rhetoric “settler colonialism.”

Members and supporters of BFP then alleged that supporters of Zerman’s bill were continually taking photos of speakers who requested not to be photographed, which led to self-identified Zionist students walking out of the meeting. According to ASUC Senator Shelby Weiss, who represents the Jewish community, the student also left because of alleged threats of personal violence and feelings of being unsafe.

Public comment continued, but escalating tensions between supporters and protesters of the bill threatened to end the meeting at several points.

ASUC Senators Sina, Sylvia Targ and Rebecca Soo called to adjourn the meeting just after 10:30 p.m. without finishing the speakers’ list, completing the agenda or voting on any bills after an argument broke out between members of the crowd and Zerman.

As the crowd filed out of the senate chambers, many attendees chanted “F**k Trump, free Palestine.”

“BFP chose to double down on their support for these murderers behind the guise of frivolously claiming their ‘voices are being silenced,’ ” Zerman said in an email written after the meeting. “Before anything they should re-evaluate what they’re using their voice to advocate for.”

Sina reflected on the meeting in an email statement, thanking everyone who came out for public comment.

“Our meetings are open to the public every week, and we appreciate when students show up to voice their support or concerns with any resolution,” Sina said in the email. “It was our committee’s firstmost priority to ensure the physical safety of all attendees in the room, which is why last night’s meeting was adjourned before all public comment commenced and agenda items were voted on.”

She added that all agenda items would be tabled until Feb. 10 due to the early adjournment.

Bears for Palestine said in an email statement that the group was grateful for the public support shown at the meeting.

“We were expecting individuals supporting the legislation, but we were incredibly honored to have so many people stand in solidarity with us,” the group wrote in the statement. “Yesterday began a movement on this campus, one that everyone suffering from settler-colonial beliefs and marginalization should be fighting for. It is now so much bigger than a bill, and so much bigger than just the 3 square feet of our cubicle.”

Sebastian Cahill is the lead student government reporter. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @SebastianCahil1.

A previous version of this article quoted Milton Zerman as having said Bears for Palestine should not have come to the meeting because it is a Muslim group. In fact, Zerman said Bears for Palestine should not have come to the meeting because of its loss in credibility.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Milton Zerman called a public comment speaker a “coward.” In fact, the insult was directed toward Media Sina.

A previous version of this article implied that Jewish students were leaving the meeting solely because they were told to not film speakers. In fact, many also left because of threats of personal violence and because they felt unsafe.