I have been following the situation at UC Berkeley with keen interest where nine student groups within the School of Law have declared that pro-Israel speakers are not welcome on campus and would not be invited by these groups as speakers.
Ken Marcus, the former head of the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights and currently the head of the Louis D Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under the Law, has led the charge in complaining about this outrageous decision. That has pitted him against the head of the law school, Erwin Chemerinsky. Chemerinsky has criticized the decision by these student groups but feels he is limited by the Constitution as far as not allowing such groups to be formed in his law school (including the notorious National Lawyers Guild). That is what he expressed to me when he responded to my own letter to him on the issue.
Most recently, two Jewish professors at UC Berkeley, Ron Hassner and Ethan Katz, have written that while they abhor the decision of the student groups, they feel that critics like Marcus are only adding fuel to the fire. They insist that “Jewish life is thriving at UC Berkeley” in spite of the recent controversy. I will say more about that later.
First, here is Marcus’ response, which is published in Jewish News of Northern California, which had previously published the op-ed by Hassner and Katz.
I would like to point out here that Chemerinsky, in his response to my letter, referred me to the Helen Diller Institute for Jewish Law and Israel Studies at UC Berkeley, as an example of “counter speech”. I checked out their website, but basically, all the information was pretty vanilla and non-specific, so I did not feel particularly enlightened. I note that Mr Hassner is co-director of the Helen Diller Institute. Indeed, the op-ed written by Hassner and Katz features the usual photo of smiling Jewish students enjoying a Hillel event on campus in 2019. I assume that was before the incident where rocks were thrown at the Hillel center on the UCB campus. But I digress. “Jewish life is thriving at UCB”. This is the campus entity that Dean Chemerinsky referred me to.
I also take note of the phrase, “Jewish life is thriving at (fill in the blank)” because I have seen and heard this phrase before, specifically when I was teaching at UC Irvine and pointing out incidents of anti-Semitism on that campus. This is a phrase used at UCI by many Jewish apologists who have insisted over recent years there is no problem of anti-Semitism at UC Irvine. I am referring to Hillel, the Jewish Federation of Orange County, and the Anti-Defamation League. I’ve heard it said also in reference to UCLA. It’s like this is the talking point used by certain Jewish leaders who don’t want to face up to the problem of campus anti-Semitism. In some cases, I suspect it is because they are too embedded within the university and have become compromised. They don’t want to lose their positions of influence with university administrators, so they refuse to call them out. In addition, problems of campus anti-Semitism also reflect negatively upon themselves. Contrary to what Messers Hassner and Katz believe, I do not believe that Jewish students are being adequately supported and protected from the pro-Palestinian goons on campus, to say nothing of certain activist professors, who, in their rabid opposition to Israel, have contributed to the anti-Semitic climate on their respective campuses.
To sum it up, I think that too many Jewish leaders take an attitude of “don’t make waves. It will just make things worse”. Germany in the 1930s.
My basic message to Dean Chemerinksy in my letter was that while I applauded his criticism of the student groups’ actions, he should not be surprised since he himself has created a law center based on liberal activism. In response to this latest controversy, he has chosen to take a defensive position, not just to little ol’ me, but to more important voices like Marcus and various Jewish organizations, like the Zionist Organization of America, the Amcha Initiative, and the aforementioned Brandeis Center, who do stand up for the safety of Jewish university students.
In the US, we are experiencing a resurgence in anti-Semitism. It was largely focused on our university campuses but has now metastasized into society at large. To say that “Jewish life is thriving” on campuses like UC Berkeley and so many other universities across the land in light of what is happening today is absurd and an insult to our intelligence.