Berkeley Law Students for Justice in Palestine, or LSJP, announced Aug. 21 that nine student affinity groups and organizations at the campus law school adopted a pro-Palestine bylaw that, among other points, will not lend platforms to Zionist speakers.
One of the LSJP bylaws states that these nine student organizations will not invite speakers who have “expressed or continued to hold” Zionist views or support pro-Zionist events in the interest of protecting the “safety and welfare” of Palestinian students on campus.
The bylaws are a part of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, movement that supports “Palestinian liberation” by taking away funds for institutions complicit in the occupation of Palestine, according to a statement by the LSJP.
“We have encouraged student groups to boycott the apartheid state and not lend platforms to speakers who support the Zionist project of genocide and apartheid,” the LSJP said in the statement. “The student organizations that have democratically voted to adopt the bylaw have done so in rejection of the Zionist ideology and in solidarity with Palestinian students at Berkeley Law.”
Dean of UC Berkeley School of Law Erwin Chemerinsky expressed his concerns in an Aug. 25 email sent to the leaders of student groups, writing that the bylaws may limit freedom of expression for individuals with differing viewpoints.
Chemerinsky said that while he supports the rights of students to follow the bylaws, there are aspects of the statement that he finds “deeply distressing.”
“To me, a law school should be a place where all views should be expressed, and to say that we’re not going to invite speakers with a particular viewpoint is inconsistent with that,” Chemerinsky said. “It’s inconsistent with the First Amendment that says that government entities can’t discriminate on the basis of viewpoint.”
In an Aug. 29 statement responding to Chemerinsky’s email, LSJP wrote that free speech and the expression of ideas “cannot be romanticized” when the product of that argument causes “harm to marginalized communities.” The LSJP also noted that the bylaw was an “absolutely” tenable action, as affinity groups chose to incorporate the bylaw through a democratic vote.
According to Chemerinsky, student groups set their own bylaws and organizations have the agency to comply or ignore them; there is no external mechanism that approves, denies or enforces bylaws.
While the bylaw has received support from some student affinity groups, the Jewish Students Association at Berkeley Law, or JSABL, released a statement Saturday alleging the bylaw “disproportionately silences” Jewish students and “alienates” them from certain groups on campus.
“In considering which organizations to join, students should not be forced to choose between identifying as either ‘pro-Palestine’ and thereby ‘anti-Israel,’ or ‘pro-Israel’ and thereby ‘anti-Palestine,’” the JSABL alleged in the statement. “This dichotomy distorts the complexity of this issue. Students can advocate for Palestinians and criticize Israeli policies without denying Israel the right to exist or attacking the identity of other students.”
JSABL further expressed concerns about what it alleged was the “antisemitic impact” of the bylaw, saying that it only accepts one viewpoint.
In response to concerns of antisemitism, a group of anti-Zionist Jewish students at Berkeley Law voiced their support for the LSJP and bylaws in a statement addressed to the dean, alleging that the bylaws “do not attack Jewish people or faith,” but rather act as a political resistance.
Chemerinsky emphasized the importance of ensuring free speech and aligning with the “principles of the community.”
“Those that believe there are human rights violations, and I’m among them, should be able to express that,” Chemerinsky said. “But those who want to defend Israel should be able to express that as well.”