Chancellor Carol Christ of the University of California, Berkeley, said on Wednesday that she is not “interested” in blaming pro-Palestinian students for causing a student government meeting to erupt into chaos, delaying a vote on a measure to censure a display at the school by a pro-Palestinian student group, featuring terrorists.
The Associated Students of the University of California Senate’s (ASUC) University and External Affairs Committee met on Monday to debate student Milton Zerman’s resolution titled “Condemning Bears for Palestine for Their Display in Eshleman Hall Glorifying Violent Terrorists.”
In December, the student group Bears for Palestine put on a display in the student union featuring convicted Palestinian terrorists Rasmieh Odeh, Fatima Bernawi and Leila Khaled.
“Jewish students were repeatedly harassed, heckled and threatened with physical threats of violence … Jewish students should never feel threatened and should NEVER fear for their safety while on campus,” posted Tikvah: Students for Israel, a pro-Israel group on campus, on Facebook.
“Yesterday wasn’t just a harassment of Palestinian students. Every marginalized group on this campus was threatened, and ASUC chose to adjourn the meeting before each of those threats was accounted for,” posted Bears for Palestine on Facebook. “Anxiety is running high among all the Palestinian students and allies on campus, but we know yesterday was a win for us.”
Pro-Israel groups rebuked Bears for Palestine.
Christ responded to those who contacted her about the incident:
- Over the course of the last 24 hours I have received numerous disturbing messages from students who described their experience and feelings during, and in the wake of, an ASUC meeting held on Monday night. These messages came from Black students, Jewish students, Muslim students … students from the full range of political perspectives and identity groups … students with antithetical views regarding the conflict in the Middle East. While these messages could not have been more different in terms of the sender’s identity, they all had one thing in common: Each message described what were perceived to be harmful verbal assaults and actions that left the student feeling unsafe, and concerned that they are not being seen or heard.
- I want to assure you that I have heard the diverse voices expressing anger, fear and hurt. However, I am not able to adjudicate what happened on Monday, and nor am I interested in blame. I know enough about what happened on Monday to feel a real sense of urgency, not just because of what happened this week, but also in the wake of other divisive incidents on our campus that have left students feeling fearful and disregarded. What I am interested in, and committed to is finding ways to build, not damage and destroy, the ties that can and should bind us together as a campus community and create a true sense of belonging for all.
She went on to assure that the university is against intolerance.
“We condemn and find intolerable expressions of racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, Islamophobia, misogyny, anti-Blackness, xenophobia and every other form of hatred that is based on an individual’s origins, identity or political viewpoint,” she said. “We believe deeply in the importance of, and necessity for respectful debate.”
The chancellor said the chaos in the meeting reflected the “tension between free speech and our commitment to creating a campus environment where everyone must feel safe, respected and welcome.”
“Students who support the Palestinian cause have a right to celebrate those they see as fighters for that cause, and their rights to express that support are fully protected by our country’s constitution,” she continued. “By the same token, Jewish students have a right to feel dismay and concern after seeing a poster they perceive as honoring those who killed, or attempted to kill, unarmed Jewish civilians. Each side has an equal right to express and have heard their perspective.”
Christ noted that the school administration is “deeply involved in efforts to de-escalate, explore avenues for possible dialogue and ensure all involved are heard, understood and provided with the support they may need. They are reaching out to impacted students and leaders from every corner of our community to discuss opportunities for expression and engagement.”
She added that “administrators are also consulting with the campus’ Restorative Justice Center to explore additional avenues for engagement and de-escalation. We also want to support the ASUC, and provide it with assistance and support so it can preserve its place as a safe venue for respectful deliberation of issues that are important to students.”
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