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Controversy over ‘Pro-Palestine’ bylaw escalates after a month of silence

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HUGO KWOK | STAFF

A few days after the passage of the bylaw, UC Berkeley Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky voiced concerns over the decision to not platform Zionist speakers; on Aug. 25, Chemerinsky sent an email to students stating that, while groups have the right to express their views, he found it “troubling to broadly exclude a particular viewpoint.”

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OCTOBER 27, 2022

After more than two months of student and community action, the controversy over the bylaw adopted by Berkeley Law Students for Justice in Palestine, or LSJP, and nine other law student organizations has escalated.

LSJP announced the “pro-Palestine” bylaw Aug. 21 as part of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, movement which campaigns for the withdrawal of support from the “apartheid regime” and “complicit institutions” that violate Palestinian human rights, according to the BDS official website.

The bylaw included creating a “supportive community space for all indigenous people globally,” boycotting funds from organizations that “directly/indirectly support the actions of the apartheid state of Israel” and participating in training to create “a safe and inclusive space for Palestinian students.”

Among these points, the bylaw also states that its signatory organizations will not host events or invite speakers who have expressed views in support of Zionism, the apartheid state of Israel and the occupation of Palestine.

A few days after the passage of the bylaw, UC Berkeley Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky voiced concerns over the decision to not platform Zionist speakers; on Aug. 25, Chemerinsky sent an email to students stating that, while groups have the right to express their views, he found it “troubling to broadly exclude a particular viewpoint.”

Some student groups also expressed concerns over what they alleged was an “antisemitic impact” of the bylaw.

LSJP and the various other groups identifying as anti-Zionist Jewish students at Berkeley Law, responded to these concerns in an Aug. 29 statement addressed to the dean stating that the bylaw “does not attack Jewish people or faith.”

Berkeley Law alumna and senior staff attorney at Palestine Legal Liz Jackson added that the bylaw is about drawing a “clear, political line” in solidarity with Palestinians.

“Nobody has proposed discriminating against anyone,” Jackson said. “Some students say that their Jewish identity is so deeply identified with Zionism that this effectively discriminates against them, but that’s their subjective view and choice about how they understand their own Jewish identity.”

Anti-Zionist Jewish groups also stated that throwing accusations of antisemitism has “serious consequences” for pro-Palestinian student activists, many of whom are people of color.

However, a Sept. 28 article published in the Jewish Journal further alleged that the bylaw created “Jewish-free zones” on campus, spurring responses from students and faculty.

Chemerinsky stated in an email the article “distorted” the issue.

“There are no Jewish-free zones at UC Berkeley or Berkeley Law, and there never will be,” Chemerinsky said in the email. “The Law School has an explicit policy that every student group and every student event must be open to all students.”

Chemerinsky pointed to the law school’s “all-comer’s policy,” which states that all sponsored events and law school groups must be open to all students, and said that the bylaw does not affect this.

He also added that the student groups adopting the bylaw are well within their rights to choose which speakers to invite or not invite to their groups.

“To require student groups to invite speakers of views they loathe would violate the First Amendment as a form of compelled speech,” Chemerinsky said in the email. “At the same time, no student group can exclude any speaker on the basis of race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation; that would violate Law School and campus policy, as well as state and federal law. Such discrimination, should it occur, will be punished.”

In early October, various Jewish groups on campus also began to speak out on allegations of exclusion.

In an Oct. 3 statement released by ASUC Senator Shay Cohen addressed to LSJP and student groups that adopted the bylaw, student groups alleged that the bylaw was “a deliberate attempt to exclude Jewish students from the community,” and likened anti-Zionism to antisemitism.

“When we say ‘Zionism,’ we mean the Jewish right to self-determination in their ancestral homeland, which is Israel,” said Amir Grunhaus, campus senior and president of Tikvah, a Zionist student group that signed the statement. “This does not say anything about the self-determination of Palestinians.”

Jackson expressed disagreement with this definition of Zionism, alleging that it was “colonial ideology” and that it is “problematic” to believe that a religious group has a right to a state of their own as it “requires discrimination” against people outside of that group.

LSJP and anti-Zionist Jewish students at Berkeley Law reflected a similar sentiment, urging the importance of “listening to criticism” of Israel and Zionism in “good faith.”

“As a Jew, I can immigrate to Israel and become a citizen there, even though my great-grandparents came from Europe and I have no connection to the land of Israel,” Jackson said. “But Palestinians who were born there, whose parents and grandparents were born there, cannot return. That’s the colonial ideology and I cannot support it as a Jew.”

In response to the buildup of allegations and statements from student groups and administration, LSJP also released a statement Oct. 22 that expressed “deep concern” for minority communities.

They alleged disinformation, the doxxing of students online and “targeted efforts” against minority students. The statement was signed by multiple organizations and faculty.

“It is not a coincidence that the overwhelming majority of racial minority student affinity groups at Berkeley Law chose to adopt this bylaw,” LSJP alleged in the statement. “It is not a coincidence that these groups are the ones facing the loudest threats of physical violence, attacks on their professional futures, and baseless allegations of antisemitism.”

On Oct. 26, a truck carrying the names of law students and professors that signed and supported the bylaw was also seen driving around campus, which Jackson described as an “extreme” version of doxxing students are experiencing online.

The LSJP statement also accused Berkeley Law administration for staying silent on the above issues and speaking against the student groups that signed the bylaw.

However, Chemerinsky denies these allegations, noting in the email that he has “defended their right to have the bylaw to members of the UC Regents, members of Congress, members of the California legislature and others.”

Contact Ananya Rupanagunta at 

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OCTOBER 27, 2022