By Matthew White/JNS.org
Click photo to download. Caption: The campus of the University of California, Berkeley, where an Israel divestment measure passed in the school’s student government in April. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
April’s Israel divestment vote at the
University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley) is just the latest unfortunate
expression of how hateful an environment the anti-Israel movement can create
for Jewish students and supporters of Israel on campus. I witnessed this
firsthand during my four years as an undergraduate at UC Berkeley from 2007-2011.
In 2010, when the last similar initiative was proposed
before the ASUC (UC Berkeley’s student government body), urging the University
of California Regents to divest funding from companies doing business with
Israel, it was only the culmination to years of hostility against pro-Israel
As founding members of Tikvah Students for
Israel, the Zionist voice on campus, my colleagues and I were targets for hate.
We were spat on. Our signs were blocked and ripped at protests. We were called
“Nazis,” “kikes,” “baby killers,” “Christ killers,” and “dirty Jews.” Swastikas
were scrawled across dormitory walls and signboards. Jewish students were
physically assaulted at a pro-Israel concert. A pro-Israel student senator was
voted out of office based on false charges. A filled shopping cart was rammed
into a young woman because she was holding up a sign that read, “Israel wants
peace.” Israel was libelously compared to Nazi Germany and apartheid South
Africa. The Israeli flag was trampled and used as an ashtray. During lectures,
some professors screened films that justified Palestinian suicide bombings
against Israeli civilians.
Given this history, I thought I knew what to expect when an Israel divestment
measure was again introduced to UC Berkeley’s student government. But
divestment is never short of nasty surprises.
The acclaimed author and civil rights activist
Alice Walker was one of the first speakers during the hearing on last month’s
Israel divestment measure. Though her work in the civil rights movement is
laudable, her refusal to allow her seminal book The Color Purple to be translated into Hebrew, thereby deliberately
withholding from only one group the very literature that can spur change, was a
shameless act of bigotry. Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb of Jewish Voice for Peace called
on the UC Berkeley student senate to disregard the Jewish voices in the crowd
that did not support Israel divestment, because she claimed that a majority of
Jews had supported slavery, too.
Most other commentators at the hearing were UC Berkeley students. Sadly, their
discourse was no less extreme. That same day, hours earlier, anti-Israel
protesters and Israel divestment supporters had gathered on the campus’s Sproul
Plaza and chanted, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will all be free,” a
slogan that calls for erasing Israel from the map and ending self-determination
for the Jewish people.
When the president and vice president of Tikvah
Students for Israel mentioned the incident and the anti-Israel chant in their
speeches before the student senate, many in the audience cheered for the chant.
When an alumna mentioned her harrowing experiences of being told by anti-Israel
students that her family in Israel deserved to be murdered by terrorists, there
were laughs and snaps of approval. Among the most vociferous pro-divestment
speakers was the student who brought Louis Farrakhan, who …read more