‘We will not move.’ Pro-Palestinian encampments, protests grow at California universities

BERKELEY —  Pro-Palestinian protests swept across California colleges and universities Tuesday as tensions grew nationwide amid an expanding student-led movement that has pitted administrators and police against young activists and intensified the debate over the line between campus free speech and antisemitism.

At UC Berkeley, students have set up dozens of tents in front of Sproul Plaza — the historic hub of the campus free speech movement. They vowed to face arrest as they demanded the university divest from investments in weapons manufacturers tied to Israel’s war in Gaza.

At Cal Poly Humboldt, administrators shut down the Arcata campus through Wednesday and moved classes online after dozens of students barricaded themselves with chairs in an administration building and police made overnight arrests.

And at USC, students said they planned to erect tents Wednesday at the center of campus. The school has been embroiled in controversy after canceling a pro-Palestinian valedictorian’s commencement speech amid accusations that she promoted antisemitism on social media.

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“We are in solidarity with students speaking up everywhere,” said Malak Afaneh, a UC Berkeley law student who is part of the “Free Palestine Camp.”

“We put up tents because that is how Palestinians are living now. We will not move until Berkeley divests,” said Afaneh, who is Palestinian American.

Tensions have grown at colleges since the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack on Israel, which killed 1,200 people; in addition, about 240 hostages were taken before Israel began its retaliatory war in the Gaza Strip. Gaza health authorities say the war has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians. According to the United Nations, 2 million Gazans are in near-famine conditions.

The unrest, which has spread to more than a dozen American campuses from Massachusetts to California, was kindled last week after Columbia University President Nemat Shafik called in police to arrest at least 100 students who refused to leave a sprawling encampment there. Shafik made the move after fielding accusations about campus antisemitism at a Republican-led congressional committee hearing on April 17 in Washington, D.C.

Instead of cooling tensions, the decision further inflamed the campus. Jewish students, pointing to posters and statements made on and near campus that supported the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, said the university has become unsafe. Those statements were widely documented via photos and videos. But firsthand accounts from news outlets of the Columbia demonstration said it has been largely peaceful.

Now, tent camps in support of the “boycott, divestment and sanctions” movement against Israel have popped up at New York, Vanderbilt and Yale universities. Police have made arrests at NYU and cleared a camp at Yale, arresting 60 protesters. Columbia has canceled in-person classes, and, at Harvard University, the typically open gates to Harvard Yard were scheduled to be closed to the public through at least Friday.

High schools, including several in the Seattle region, also took part by staging walkouts Tuesday. Stanford University joined in Tuesday as local media reported hundreds of students gathering at Memorial Church in the center of campus for a “solidarity march” with Palestinians and American university activists. The event was organized by Stanford Against Apartheid in Palestine, a group that previously staged a 120-day pro-Palestinian tent sit-in on campus that ended in February when university officials removed the structure and banned overnight camping.

The national Students for Justice in Palestine organization has called for more encampments and rallies, posting on its Instagram account, “Disclose. Divest. We will not stop. We will not rest.”

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

Lawsuit accuses UC Berkeley Law School of ‘unchecked spread of anti-Semitism’

A Zionist organization sued the University of California on Tuesday, accusing the UC Berkeley Law School of promoting anti-Semitism and discriminating against Jews by allowing student groups to bar Zionists as speakers at their meetings.

“Zionism is an integral component of Jewish identity,” attorneys for the Louis D. Brandeis Foundation said in a lawsuit filed in federal court in San Francisco. “Anti-Zionism is discrimination against those who recognize the Jews’ ancestral heritage — in particular the Jews’ historic connection to the land of Israel.”

The suit says it “targets the longstanding, unchecked spread of antisemitism at the University of California Berkeley.”

They cited a policy announced in August 2022 by Law Students for Justice in Palestine and now followed, according to the suit, by 23 of the 100 organizations in the 1,100-student law school. Saying Zionism is used to justify the displacement and oppression of Palestinians, the groups have adopted bylaws saying they would not invite pro-Zionist speakers, who describe Israel as a Jewish state.

The lawsuit said the climate on campus has become more hostile since the Oct. 7 assault on Israel by military forces from Hamas, which rules Gaza, followed by weeks of attacks by Israel’s military on Gaza and the West Bank.

“A Jewish student draped in an Israeli flag was attacked by two protesters who struck him in the head with a metal water bottle,” Brandeis lawyers said. “Jews on campus have been receiving hate emails calling for their gassing and murder. And Jewish students have reported being afraid to go to class, which would require them to pass through the pro-Hamas rallies taking place in Berkeley’s main thoroughfares.”

The lawsuit asked a federal judge to prohibit the university from funding or recognizing “any student organization that excludes Jews.” But the student groups say they do not exclude Jews or Zionists, only pro-Zionist speakers. And UC Berkeley spokesperson Dan Mogulof said Tuesday the university “has long been committed to confronting antisemitism, and to supporting the needs and interests of its Jewish students, faculty, and staff.”

He cited UC Berkeley’s establishment last year of an Antisemitism Education Initiative, the first of its kind by a major university, with workshops and lectures on Zionism and discrimination against Jews. UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ said in a message to students Nov. 3 that hateful speech and actions against either Jews or Palestinians “has no place on our campus or in our discourse.”

Christ also said she condemns “the harassment, threats, and doxxing that have targeted our Palestinian students and their supporters,” as well as the “alarming increase in antisemitic expression in our country, in general, and on our college campuses, in particular.”

UC President Michael Drake announced last week that the university was establishing an office to combat discrimination and would provide training against both antisemitism and Islamophobia.

But Steven Solomon, a UC Berkeley law professor and a plaintiff in the suit, said Jewish students at the school are not being protected. 

“The students are cowed, they’re fearful, harassed. Some of them are not attending class,” Solomon told the Chronicle Tuesday. “They’re dehumanized in ways that would not be tolerated for any other group on campus.”

In a column published by the Wall Street Journal on Oct. 16, Solomon described the student groups that rejected Zionist speakers as antisemitic and urged law firms not to hire any of his students who agreed with the groups.

The law school’s dean, Erwin Chemerinsky, has said he disagrees with the student organizations’ exclusion of Zionist speakers — a policy, he told the groups, that might bar him from speaking because he supports “the existence of Israel.” But he has also said they have a right to invite only speakers who agree with their views.

The new lawsuit, with its attacks on the policies and climate at the school, “describes a place that doesn’t exist” and gives short shrift to the students’ constitutional right of free speech, Chemerinsky said Tuesday.

The student groups’ rejection of pro-Zionist speakers was challenged last November in a civil rights complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Education by two lawyers, who said in their complaint that the groups’ policies were “contributing to the creation of a hostile environment for Jewish students, faculty and staff.” 

In response to that complaint, Zoha Khalili, an attorney at Palestine Legal, said the student groups “care about human rights” and have a legal and moral right to boycott Zionist speakers.

Chemerinsky said the law school filed its response to the complaint early this year. He said the Department of Education notified a number of law schools this month that their policies were being investigated and that UC Berkeley was not on the list.

But in Tuesday’s lawsuit, the Brandeis Foundation said that in order to join or meet with groups at the Berkeley law school, “Jewish students, faculty, and guest speakers must deny a central part of their cultural, ancestral heritage and a fundamental tenet of their faith.”

Click here to read the full article in the SF Chronicle

Steel: Growing Antisemitism Among Democrats Is Creating a Political Crisis

The horrific terrorist attacks of October 7th, 2023, should have inspired a moment of bipartisan unity in Washington, D.C.

Republican Mike Johnson’s (R-LA) first act as the new Speaker of the House was a floor vote in favor of a congressional resolution expressing explicit support for Israel and condemning Hamas for the deadliest attack against Jews since the Holocaust. Sadly, too many Democrats responded with equivocation, talk of “both sides,” and demands for a ceasefire.

Clearly there is steep division within the Democratic Party over Israel. Traditional Democrats stand firm for Israel. 22 House Democrats voted to censure Rep. Rashida Tlaib for her rhetoric against Israel.

Worryingly, there is an emerging anti-Israel , even antisemitic is growing among Democrats. The AP-NORC Center poll reports that nearly half of Democrats disapprove of how President Biden is handling the Israel-Hamas conflict.

Obvious and widespread antisemitism was unthinkable six weeks ago. Every day, throughout the world, we are hearings phrases not heard since World War II. Many long-time Democrats are extremely concerned with their party.

“Last night, 15 of my Democratic colleagues voted AGAINST standing with our ally Israel and condemning Hamas terrorists who brutally murdered, raped, and kidnapped babies, children, men, women, and elderly, including Americans,” Representative Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), wrote on X (Twitter). “They are despicable and do not speak for our party.”

Despicable Democrats deserve to be called out for the growing antisemitism within the modern leftist coalition. In the immediate aftermath of October 7th, numerous progressive activist groups, including college Democratic clubs, chapters of the Democratic Socialists for America, the Oakland teachers union, and members of Black Lives Matter celebrated the terrorist attacks. In a since-deleted tweet, BLM Chicago declared, “I stand with Palestine,” accompanied by an image of a Hamas paraglider.

Many Jewish Americans no longer feel welcome in a Democratic Party, which has long tolerated antisemitic hate. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-MN) rose to national prominence as she repeated antisemitic tropes, including her past statement that “Israel has hypnotized the world.” She hasn’t been banished to political obscurity. Democrats have hailed her as a progressive icon.

Most shamefully, fellow progressive Democrat Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (MI) continues to defend the antisemitic slogan “from the river to the sea,” which calls for the eradication of Israel. Rather than apologize or express remorse, Tlaib has only grown more emboldened. “We will remember in 2024,” she threatened, in reference to the 2024 presidential election. (Republican criticism led to Tlaib’s formal congressional censure.)

Democrats see Arab Americans as key voters in the battleground states of Pennsylvania and Michigan, which Biden barely won in 2020. That explains why, in the face of despicable terrorist attacks against Israel, many Democrats have embraced the callous and calculating “both sides are to blame” talking point.

President Biden said he “thoroughly understands the emotions, both on the Palestinian side of this argument and on the Jewish side of the argument.” Less than a week after the terrorist attacks of October 7th, 55 congressional Democrats signed a letter to President Biden that painted Israel as the aggressor, accused Israel of violating international law, condemned the Israel Defense Forces for its “complete siege of Gaza,” and called for “a humanitarian corridor” to bring aid into Gaza.

Anti-Israeli sentiments are now mainstream among Democrats. This spring, the nonpartisan Gallup survey company found that, by a double-digit margin, Democrats sympathize more with Palestinians than Israelis when assessing the conflict in the Middle East. In contrast, according to the same survey, nearly eight in ten Republicans are allied with Israel.

“Increasingly, Jews are being forced to choose between their Jewish roots and their traditionally leftist political orientation,” observes Joel Kotkin, the Roger Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. “Many of those expressing support for Hamas’s actions, and opposition to any strong Israeli response, come from the left.”

As Democrats turn their back on Israel, Jewish Americans are realizing there is an alternative. In January, the Republican National Committee unanimously approved a resolution to formally condemn, denounce, censure and oppose antisemitism in all its forms. Congressional Republicans have unequivocally backed Israel’s right to self-defense, and fully funded military assistance in Israel’s battle to defeat Hamas.

Click here to read that the full article in BreitbartCA