The recent filing of a lawsuit against the University of California (UC) Berkeley by Jessica Felber, former student and member of the student-group Tikvah: Students for Israel, really highlights the troubling situation on a campus that once championed civil rights for all. Ms. Felber was rammed with a metal cart by Husam Zakharia, a member of the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) while she was holding a sign up that said, “Israel wants peace” at an event during the 2010 “Israeli Peace & Diversity Week.”
Apparently UC Berkeley has become a place where it is quite unpopular to support views other
than those that demonize Israel. It seems to be just part of the day-to-day business at UC Berkeley to allow radical anti-Israel groups to host slanderous events, which often intimidate students who espouse pro-Israel views or wear clothing or symbols that display support for Israel or affiliation with Judaism. Over the past several years, the administration has turned a blind eye to these clear violations of civil rights and discourse and allowed the student-led SJP to go unchecked in efforts that delegitimize Israel and portray Zionism as a racist movement.
(This was one of many signs that was vandalized on campus)
Gabe Weiner, an alumnus of UC Berkeley and a co-founder of the student group Tikvah: Students for Israel provided some context about what pro-Israel life was like in past years on campus. “Tikvah was founded in 2007 when SJP was waging an increasingly influential and unchallenged campaign to delegitimize Israel.” Weiner noted that, “Tikvah became a way for previously silenced Jewish students to stand up for their rights and make their voices heard in the tradition of free speech at Berkeley.” Unfortunately, this resulted in even greater efforts by SJP to delegitimize Israel and intimidate Jewish students. Over the years, the SJP response to events hosted by Tikvah included vandalism, with swastikas appearing all over campus next to Jewish stars, trampling of the Israeli flag on numerous occasions, and, “At a rally that SJP held on campus in 2008, the crowd shouted the chant ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’” said Jessica Felber. This chant that was shouted by the Berkeley SJP clearly shows that they did not believe in Israel’s right to exist.
(Husam Zakharia and a friend on campus sitting casually with their feet on top of the Israeli flag)
Despite efforts by SJP to deter the Zionist students, Tikvah continued to become stronger and the SJP became increasingly marginalized. At this point, certain members in SJP began to threaten Zionist students. This was something that caused a great deal of angst in the club, but it did not deter the students’ activities, which were supported by many students across the Berkeley campus. Husam Zakharia, one of the most vocal and radical students, often led the charge for the SJP against the Zionist students. The worst incident occurred during the 2010 “Israeli Peace & Diversity Week” when Mr. Zakharia physically assaulted Ms. Felber when she was holding a sign up that said, “Israel wants peace.”
According to Felber, this was not the first encounter that she had with Husam on campus. “About a year before that I had an ugly encounter with him when I was standing in front of an SJP display of coffins on our campus holding up a sign that he didn’t like. He yelled at me, spat on me, and called me ‘disgusting.’” Following the incident, Ms. Felber explained that she took caution when walking around on campus. “I was extremely fearful, so much so that I wouldn’t walk anywhere alone after 5PM, and I even avoided going into my apartment when my roommates were not home.” She was granted a restraining order against Husam and went to counseling for the remainder of that semester.
Although the actions by Mr. Zakharia were clearly an assault and demonstration of his radicalism, it is troubling that nothing is being done by the administration to condemn his atrocious act. In fact, quite the opposite is true, as the campus spokesman Dan Mogulof told the student-run newspaper The Daily Californian on March 10th that the lawsuit was ''baseless.'' It is hard to believe that his statement could be true though because the university was made aware of this incident and various other incidents that took place throughout the many years that Husam and others harassed pro-Israel students on campus. If action would have been taken years ago to stop the blatant hatred being spewed by SJP, it is possible that this situation may not have ever occurred.
Other than the testimony from Ms. Felber and other students around campus, various photos and videos have also surfaced of Mr. Zakharia. In one photo, Zakharia is shown talking with the Executive Director of UC Berkeley Hillel, Adam Naftalin-Kelman. Mr. Kelman refused to comment on the photos and Ms. Felber’s lawsuit in general, but it is clear in the photo that he was not having a friendly conversation with Mr. Zakharia.
(Husam Zakharia speaking with Hillel Executive Director Adam Naftalin-Kelman)
Currently on the Berkeley campus, students in Tikvah are in the middle of their annual “Israeli Peace & Diversity Week.” They have held a number of activities around campus, which have not attracted much controversy. Still, the week of activities was not completely stress-free though, because one of the signs hung by Tikvah on campus depicting a Star of David with a dove was vandalized and broken. Nonetheless, the students kept a positive attitude and their events continued with success.
Jonathan Horovitz, a current member of Tikvah, said that "Israeli Peace & Diversity Week" is, "A week meant to highlight the historical connection of the Jewish people to our homeland, and our struggle to develop an open and diverse culture there." Some of the programs that were part of the Peace & Diversity Week included lectures titled "Life Under Fire: the Israeli Victims of Hamas Terrorism" and "Human Rights in Israel." Tikvah also held their annual peace rally and screened the film Forgotten Refugees, which highlights the story of up to a million Jews who were forced from their homes throughout the Middle East and North Africa.
For the future, it would be great to see changes made on the Berkeley campus. Hopefully, Ms. Felber’s lawsuit will be a success and the administration will become more active in putting an end to the campus anti-Semitism. No longer should students feel intimidated when expressing their views – it is unjust.
To see more photos of SJP activities on Berkeley''s Campus click here