In 2023, the mere mention of Zionism – the Jewish people’s right to self-determination in their ancestral homeland of Israel – evokes starkly divided reactions. Seemingly none more so than on United States college campuses where simply identifying as a Zionist can get you maligned, ostracized or worse. This is the case at the state-funded University of California, Berkeley Law School, where clubs financed by the school have instituted clauses in their bylaws allowing them to openly boycott Zionist speakers.
Supporters of the bylaws claim that Zionism is simply a viewpoint and that discriminating against viewpoints and ideologies is a component of free speech. This is ostensibly the view of UC Berkeley Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, who expressed this opinion when interviewed for a recent New York Times article in connection to a case submitted to the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) against the school for violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act which deals with discrimination based on the grounds of race, color, or national origin...’’
“A student group has the right to choose the speakers they invite on the basis of viewpoint.”Erwin Chemerinsky
Dean Chemerinsky also seems to think that the clubs that instituted these antisemitic bylaws are within their rights. The dean commented that, “A student group has the right to choose the speakers they invite on the basis of viewpoint.” He went on to say that “excluding speakers based on race, religion, sex or sexual orientation would not be allowed.” The dean also expressed the opinion that while many Jews view Zionism as integral to their identity, such deep passions do not change the law. One simply has to look at the multifaceted aspects of Zionism to realize that it is more than simply a deep passion.
Zionism: More than meets the eye
The inherent link between Jews and the land of Israel can be seen in prayer, for example, in that no matter where Jews are on the planet, they will turn toward the direction of Jerusalem while praying. The prayers during the Jewish High Holy Days end with the bold and hopeful statement voiced for millennia “Next year in Jerusalem.” Zionism guides Jewish holidays that revolve around the seasons, calendar and weather, as reflected not in the various countries where the Jewish people are scattered but in Israel, our ancestral homeland.
ZIONISM INSPIRES the Jewish people to this day, through heroes like the Maccabees, who fought for freedom in ancient Israel. It is what triggers mourning for the destruction of the Jewish temples in Jerusalem thousands of years ago.
Zionism is what powers the Jewish people’s ancient connection to the land of Israel, which is constantly reinforced by new archaeological findings. These discoveries date back to the times of King David, whose own Zionism led to him declaring Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish nation, uniting that nation once again.
Zionism is what has accompanied the Jewish people through centuries of exile, crusades, conquerors, pogroms, persecution and the Holocaust.
Zionism is all the above and more. It is such a core element of the Jewish people that it is part of our religion, our oral and written history, our traditions and our national memory. It is an inherent part of our sense of peoplehood. Regardless of whether we live in Israel or not, or agree with the current Israeli government or not, Zionism is part of who we are.
While these clubs and others claim that their only goal is to boycott Zionists, the outcome of their actions is excluding and silencing Jews and Jewish voices on campus. An outcome that, if not confronted, could expand well beyond the halls of UC Berkeley.
These attempts to portray Zionism as merely a viewpoint are a transparent backdoor to excuse antisemitism - a backdoor that must be nailed shut. The way, to do so is to show the OCR and the world that Zionism is an intricate part of the Jewish people, their identity and their shared ancestry. Zionism must be recognized for what it is: an integral part of Jewish Identity not only by the OCR in its investigation but the wider public.
The writer is the project manager at the International Legal Forum, an Israel-based network of over 4,000 lawyers and activists around the world, standing up for Israel and combating antisemitism in the international legal arena. He has a BA in Government, Strategy and Diplomacy from the IDC and an MA in International Relations from the Hebrew University.