Nine law student organizations at the University of California, Berkeley, decided that they would “never invite any speakers that support Israel or Zionism” at the beginning of the school year. The goal is to make sure students feel safe on campus.
This bylaw was created by UC Berkeley’s Law Students for Justice in Palestine (LSJP), and they asserted that the bylaw would help improve the safety of Palestinian students on Berkeley’s campus.
The Jewish Journal shared that the groups which passed the bylaws include “the Berkeley Law Muslim Student Association, Middle Eastern and North African Law Students Association, Womxn of Color Collective, Asian Pacific American Law Students Association, Queer Caucus, Community Defense Project, Women of Berkeley Law, and Law Students of African Descent.”
According to the Washington Examiner, “On college campuses, in progressive organizing spaces, in some professional contexts, and even among friends, Americans are increasingly being told their Zionism is disqualifying.“
Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch, a prominent Reform rabbi, shared a sermon about college campuses. In “The American Campus and the Jews.” Hirsch stated, “Nonetheless, we should be honest with ourselves: Anti-Zionism often leads to antisemitism.”
According to the Anti-Defamation League, there were “359 campus anti-Israel incidents during the 2021-2022 academic year.”
To get a sense of what’s been happening on the college campus, Jeffrey Greenberg, the Director of Campus Affairs of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), shared what students need to know about how the UC Berkeley bylaw is antisemitic.
Greenberg said the bylaws “specifically stated that the groups would pledge 1) to not invite pro-Israel or Zionist speakers to address their groups; 2) to support the Boycott, Divest, Sanction (BDS) movement; 3) to participate in a ‘Palestine 101’ training held by the student group Law Students for Justice in Palestine (LSJP). Aside from shutting down debate and broadly excluding a particular viewpoint from being expressed, this radical by-law is inherently discriminatory.”
AJC defines antisemitism through the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) definition. The IHRA states “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
Yale University sophomore and Executive Vice President of the AJC Campus Global Board, Abe Baker-Butler, said, “Antisemitism is the ‘canary in the coal mine’ for liberal democracy, pluralism and other values we hold dear.” “We must call out antisemitism wherever and whenever we see it, especially when it comes from our own political camp or social group,” Baker-Butler said.
Amherst College senior and AJC President of the Campus Global Board, Emma Daitz, said she has found it challenging to raise awareness of Jewish issues at school.
Daitz said it is difficult “when so many people inherently associate Zionism with racism or imperialism and stick to those buzzwords rather than attempting to learn about what Zionism means and the history of the Israel-Palestine conflict.”
Just like many other college students, she has seen the role student government plays on campus. Amherst’s student government sent an email to the entire student body about the Israel-Palestine conflict. Daitz stated that this email “mostly disregarded Israeli suffering, or any nuance to the conflict.” She said, “The discourse that emerged after this email was problematic, usually factually incorrect, and at times, antisemitic.”
Daitz said that many students on college campuses do not understand the meaning of Zionism. She said, “I believe that so many people claim to be anti-Zionist because they think being a Zionist means to unequivocally support the actions of the Israeli government, or be against the rights of the Palestinian people. This is obviously not the case.” She has had conversations with other students about what being a Zionist means and how it is “simply the belief in the right to Jewish self-determination, or to a Jewish homeland.”