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Berkeley Law Must Denounce Antisemitism in its Student Groups

Updated: Dec 13, 2022

– September 30, 2022

The Jewish Studies Zionist Network calls on the UC Berkeley School of Law to put a stop to the discrimination against Jewish students by several of its student organizations. There has been a campaign launched by UC Berkeley’s Law Students for Justice in Palestine to ban the invitation of speakers to campus law clubs that either support or have expressed support for “Zionism, the apartheid state of Israel, and the occupation of Palestine.” LSJP maintains that inviting Zionists to speak will violate its anti-racist, anti-imperialist principles and will endanger the safety of students who support “Palestinian liberation.”

Branding Zionism as an imperialist apartheid system is an opinion, not a fact. It is an opinion contested by JSZN’s over 160 members who have academic expertise in the subject. Many members of the Jewish community consider Zionism to be a legitimate expression of their intrinsic right to national self-determination in their ancestral homeland. Therefore, such a policy amounts to bigotry against Jewish students and legal professionals, and an infringement of their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

Most student law clubs that have joined this campaign have no connection to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is unclear how a presentation by a “Zionist” at a law club on a topic unrelated to Zionism jeopardizes the safety of Palestinians or anti-colonialists. One has nothing to do with the other.

LSJP does not explain how it will determine who is a “supporter of Zionism.” Given that the state of Israel is to a great extent important to the majority of American Jewry, will LSJP assume that prospective Jewish speakers are Zionists? Will they subject any prospective Jewish speakers to a Zionist litmus test and force them to renounce the state of Israel? This constitutes a form of McCarthyism, and, because it holds the Jews to a double standard, it constitutes antisemitism.

LSJP’s statement maintains that “Free speech and the exchange of ideas cannot be romanticized when the byproduct of such rhetoric causes harm to marginalized communities.” Legal professionals have an obligation to uphold free speech and the exchange of ideas, as the search for the truth is integral to the judicial process. LSJP is contending that when a Zionist exercises his or her right to free speech, then free speech and justice are at odds with each other. It then follows that social justice must supersede free speech. Not only is this false juxtaposition of free speech and justice nonsensical it is also unethical for legal students and scholars to suppress anyone’s free speech simply because others may be offended by such speech. And given that it only applies to Zionists, it is antisemitic.

The adoption of this bylaw by numerous Berkeley law clubs will create a climate of fear among Jewish law students and legal professionals who will be cowed into silence – or worse forced to repudiate publicly any affiliation with Israel – lest their professional mobility be damaged. It amounts to an unjustifiable limitation on the freedom of speech that specifically targets Jews, because of American Jewry’s connection with the Jewish state. To hold the American Jewish legal community responsible for an unresolved conflict in the Middle East is antisemitic bigotry.

We call on UC Berkeley’s academic community – faculty, staff, administrators, and students – to denounce LSJP’s ban on “Zionist speakers” because it is in violation of the university’s sacred mission. We also call on Jewish studies scholars specifically to take a stand against such discriminatory practices, using their expertise in Jewish history and politics to illustrate why the muzzling of Zionists in campus spaces is a form of antisemitism. To condone this ban is to tolerate racism against Jews.

The Jewish Studies Zionist Network Coordinating Committee

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