Olivia Wittels

An open letter to UC Berkeley: Enough

Photo by Georg Eiermann on Unsplash

Dear Chancellor Christ and the UC Berkeley Administration:

Enough. On Monday, February 26, 2024, Bears for Palestine (BFP) – a UC Berkeley-sponsored student group – organized a protest-turned-riot to, in their own words, “SHUT IT DOWN”, “it” being Ran Bar-Yoshafat, an Israeli attorney invited to campus by various Jewish groups. BFP’s Instagram post announced they would “not allow this event to go on” by featuring a picture of Bar-Yoshafat with demon-red eyes and “GENOCIDAL MURDERER” across his face. Bears for Palestine then instigated violent protests leading to the event’s cancellation and the evacuation of Jewish students, as university police could not ensure their protection from the BFP-led mob outside the building where Bar-Yoshafat was set to speak.

First, these Bears are obviously not for Palestine, and the university must stop letting antisemitism flourish under the guise of being only “anti-Zionism” or “anti-Israel.” Spitting on Jews while physically and verbally assaulting them is blatant antisemitism, and an explicit demonstration of the illiberal rot festering in the minds of students across America today. That Bears for Palestine has antisemites in its midst is unsurprising – this same group on October 7 published a declaration of “unwavering support” for the Hamas butchers and rapists while Israel was in the midst of defending itself against a medieval death cult that massacred 1,200 people. Enough pretending these are merely student activists trying to “free Palestine.”

Second, UC Berkeley must not be afraid to condemn the intolerance and racism that has captured its students’ impressionable minds. The university should have expressly disavowed Bears for Palestine on October 7, when BFP declared “glory to the resistance, and glory to our martyrs,” i.e., the jihadis that had just carried out the biggest pogrom against Jews since the Holocaust. A student group that “indisputably supports” such an “uprising,” and that deems rape, kidnaping, mutilation, and murder acts of “resistance,” should have been scorned by those in power at UC Berkeley. Whether due to First Amendment-related concerns or otherwise, university leadership has failed, time and again, to adequately condemn and distance itself from such abysmal displays of immorality. This has emboldened Bears for Palestine and their ilk to push the boundaries of any antisemitism that they can get away with. On February 26, Jewish students at Berkeley quite literally experienced a night of broken glass because Bears for Palestine believe it is their right to incite a riot rather than allow other students to hear from a speaker who might challenge the viewpoint that it was “a revolutionary moment in contemporary Palestinian resistance” for Hamas to gang-rape women and kidnap toddlers. Bears for Palestine, Berkley Law Students for Justice in Palestine, and other hate-oriented student groups have been demonizing Israel, Zionism, and Jews for years on this campus under your watch. Enough.

Third, consider why and how these students merit admission to the supposedly most prestigious public university in the country. Not all prospective students believe that assaulting people with opposing viewpoints is effective advocacy. UC Berkeley is letting in hundreds of students each year who are so intellectually stunted that they proudly sign letters expressing solidarity with a terror organization. These students are morally inverted, and the university is failing to instill in them any real sense of right and wrong. UC Berkeley must clarify that students who break windows, shrieking about a “genocide” and screaming for an intifada, hold disgusting views that should be marginalized on campus (let alone make clear to them that such virulent lack of curiosity, humility, or nuance will so obviously not bring peace to the Middle East or lead to the creation of a Palestinian state). UC Berkeley leadership must do more to question why these types of students are being admitted to campus each year. Enough.

Finally, enough with expressions of “sadness, concern and dismay” at what Chancellor Christ initially referred to as “transgressive behavior.” A free and civil society – let alone a university – cannot flourish if there are no consequences for illegality. Not only did Bears for Palestine achieve its heckler’s veto, but multiple reports of assault and battery were filed with the campus police. Appallingly (albeit unsurprisingly), Bears for Palestine has shown no remorse for the riot it instigated, instead posting another statement blaming the UC Berkeley administration for “militarizing campus” and accusing the “Israeli Occupied Forces” (read, Jews) for supposedly training UCPD. These students’ minds are warped with conspiratorial, simple-minded ideas, yet their incapacity to break free from such black-and-white narratives does not and cannot absolve them from their crimes. Hiding like cowards behind their masks and keffiyehs, and however righteous they may feel their cause to be, these mob-minded individuals and groups must be held accountable.

Expel the students responsible for the violence on February 26. Disband Bears for Palestine, Berkeley Law Students for Justice in Palestine, and other UC Berkeley-sanctioned organizations that continuously discriminate against Jews and Israel. No other acts of hatred against any other group would be tolerated with such impunity, and it is far past time that the school stop merely expressing sympathy for those facing antisemitism and start taking tangible action against its perpetrators. Send a message to these students – and others who may support them – that intolerance will no longer be tolerated at UC Berkeley, and that the ideologues who threaten free speech, civil discourse, and open-mindedness are no longer welcome on campus. Berkeley’s motto is Fiax Lux – let there be light. There cannot be light without those brave enough to take a stand against darkness.


Olivia Wittels, Berkeley Law J.D., 2019

About the Author
Olivia Wittels received her J.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law and her B.A. from Cornell University. She is an attorney at a law firm in New York City, focusing on corporate and financial transactions. Ms. Wittels is a member of AIPAC’s Young Leadership Council and is on the Advisory Board of the Helen Diller Institute for Jewish Law and Israel Studies.
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