UC Berkeley Law student groups ban Zionist speakers

UC Berkeley’s Law Students for Justice in Palestine (LSJP) declared that not inviting pro-Zionist speakers was necessary for “the safety and welfare of Palestinian students on campus."

UC Berkeley campus in California (photo credit: BRAINCHILDVN/FLICKR/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
UC Berkeley campus in California
(photo credit: BRAINCHILDVN/FLICKR/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

Several law student groups at the University of California Berkeley’s School of Law have amended their bylaws – vowing to never invite a speaker who supports Zionism or the State of Israel – at the start of the academic year, Jewish Journal reports. 

The bylaw, led by the UC Berkeley’s Law Students for Justice in Palestine (LSJP) student group, declared that not inviting pro-Zionist speakers was necessary for “the safety and welfare of Palestinian students on campus.”

“Students should not be forced to choose between identifying as either ‘pro-Palestine’ and thereby ‘anti-Israel’ or ‘pro-Israel’ and thereby ‘anti-Palestine’... Students can advocate for Palestinians and criticize Israeli policies without denying Israel the right to exist or attacking the identity of other students,” The Jewish Students Association at Berkeley Law wrote in a rebuke of the policy.

Women of Berkeley Law, Asian Pacific American Law Students Association, Middle Eastern and North African Law Students Association, Law Students of African Descent and the Queer Caucus were among the nine student groups to adopt the anti-Zionist policy – a policy that Berkeley Law’s Dean Erwin Chemerinsky said would effectively ban him from participating in law student group events.

 BDS ACTIVISTS in action (credit: GALI TIBBON / AFP) BDS ACTIVISTS in action (credit: GALI TIBBON / AFP)

“Anti-Zionism is flatly antisemitic,” wrote Kenneth L. Marcus, founder and chairman of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, which has represented Jewish students in similar cases regarding antisemitism on college campuses. “Using ‘Zionist’ as a euphemism for Jew is nothing more than a confidence trick. Like other forms of Judeophobia, it is an ideology of hate, treating Israel as the 'collective Jew' and smearing the Jewish state with defamations similar to those used for centuries to vilify individual Jews.”

Anti-Zionism and BDS on US college campuses

The newest changes to law student groups at UC Berkeley are part of a growing trend of excluding pro-Israel and Zionist voices on US college campuses. Two Jewish students at State University of New York (SUNY) New Paltz accused the school of antisemitism in August after they were excluded from a sex abuse survivors group on campus due to what they say is their pro-Israel views.

Last July, a Jewish student at the University of Southern California claimed that she resigned from its student government because she endured harassment over her pro-Israel views – adding that USC administrators did not follow up on the case and protect the student.

Marcus, a Berkeley alum who penned a Jewish Journal op-ed about the anti-Zionist changes to the law group bylaws, has represented Jewish students in the aforementioned discrimination cases, as well as others across US college campuses.

Berkeley’s Dean responds

Chemerinsky published a response to Marcus’ op-ed in Jewish Journal. “The Law School has an ‘all-comers’ policy, which means that every student group must allow any student to join and all student-organized events must be open to all students,” Chemerinsky explained. “I know of no instance in which in this has been violated or there has been any discrimination against Jews. I have been in regular contact with our Jewish students about this.”

“Some student groups that adopted a statement drafted by Law Students for Justice In Palestine condemning Israel. But what he (Marcus) does not mention is that only a handful of student groups out of over 100 at Berkeley Law did this,” Chemerinsky added. 

“Finally, it is important to recognize that law student groups have free speech rights, including to express messages that I and others might find offensive,” Chemerinsky concluded.