Antisemitic banner displayed on Interstate 80

Photo of The Berkeley Pedestrian Bridge
Daniel Ramirez/Creative Commons
Two people allegedly associated with the group Goyim Defense League were videotaped yelling conspiracy theories and displaying an antisemitic banner on Interstate 80 in the presence of Berkeley police. Photo by Daniel Ramirez under CC BY-SA 2.0

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Content warning: antisemitic actions

Berkeley Police Department officers were filmed standing behind two people who were allegedly affiliated with the Goyim Defense League, as they hung an antisemitic banner on a pedestrian bridge over Interstate 80.

The video showed those allegedly linked to the Goyim Defense League yelling conspiracy theories at traffic and displaying a banner that blamed Jewish people for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. BPD officers were filmed standing nearby while the banner was hung, and they stayed until the banner was taken down about one hour later, according to BPD spokesperson Officer Byron White.

The two people possibly affiliated with the Goyim Defense League planned to take pictures and a video before taking the banner down, according to White.

“As the hateful banner caused disturbances/verbal disputes with those who passed by it, officers remained in the area to ensure that there was no violence,” White said in an email. “This incident has been documented as a Hate Incident.”

John Efron, campus Koret professor of Jewish history, said he was disgusted, but not surprised by the incident.

Efron said it is difficult to judge the police’s intentions through video snippets, but ASUC Senator Sophie Morris said she was hurt by the presence of the police at the incident.

“The fact that police are there to ensure “no violence” is absurd,” Morris said in an email, adding that hate crimes are a form of violence.

Antisemitism is at the center of the white nationalist movement, according to Efron. He added antisemitic conspiracy theories date back to the late 18th century, when Jewish people were blamed for the French and Bolshevik revolutions.

Recent conspiracy theories claim Jewish people control the media and government, and are responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks and the COVID-19 pandemic, he said. Efron noted while some of these conspiracies may sound “comical,” millions of Jewish people have been murdered over conspiracy theories throughout history.

“As far as Jews are concerned, the consequences of surrendering to a conspiracy theory are catastrophic because they become violent,” Efron said. “From individual sentiments all the way up to the health of a nation, these conspiracy theories have a profound impact.”

Efron added he felt such antisemitic conspiracy theories can erode the “fabric of society.” He also noted for individual students on campus, antisemitic incidents are “terrifying.”

While people often perceive Berkeley as a liberal “bubble,” Morris said, this hate incident is “proof” that it is not always true.

“It is vital that our campus work towards fighting antisemitism rather than pretending it doesn’t exist,” Morris said in an email. “Or else Jewish students will continue to feel unsafe and unheard on campus.”

Contact Vani Suresh at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @vanisuresh_.