Sheldon Kirshner

Panic-Mongering Serves No Purpose

Recently, The Jewish Journal in Los Angeles published an op-ed piece that ignited a “firestorm of controversy,” as the Jewish Telegraphic Agency succinctly noted.

The article, titled “Berkeley Develops Jewish-Free Zones,” was written by Kenneth Marcus, the founder of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law. He rightly condemned the University of California’s law school at Berkeley for having adopted a bylaw banning speakers who support “Zionism, the apartheid state of Israel, and the occupation of Palestine.”

The ban was initiated by a pro-Palestinian group, Students for Justice in Palestine. It endorses the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which essentially calls for the creation of a binational state in place of Israel.

Only nine out of 100 student organizations endorsed the discriminatory bylaw. So far, not a single speaker has been affected by this egregious bylaw.

Yet 26 Jewish groups, ranging from the World Jewish Congress to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, rushed to blast it as unvarnished antisemitism. It may very well be antisemitic in essence, but their condemnation was a tad premature.

In a piece in The Daily Beast, Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of Berkeley’s law school, implied that The Jewish Journal was guilty of yellow journalism. “There is no ‘Jewish Free Zone’ at Berkeley Law or on the UC-Berkeley campus,” he wrote in a rejoinder.

“The law school’s rules are clear that no speaker can be excluded for being Jewish or for holding particular views,” added Chemerinsky, who describes himself as a Jewish progressive Zionist.

The Jewish News of Northern California weighed in on the issue as well. It published an article warning that “panic-mongering around anti-Zionism on U.S. campuses serves no purpose other than to offer free advertisement for extremist ideas, and to erode needlessly Jews’ sense of basic safety and security in places where Jewish life is actually thriving.”

The writers of this piece pointed out that 13 Israeli scholars are currently teaching at Berkeley, and that the campus is home to a wide variety of Jewish organizations.

In short, there are no Jewish “free zones” at Berkeley. They are a figment of Kenneth Marcus’ fervid imagination.

Be that as its may, thy Berkeley’s law school’s bylaw is clearly a blatant and misbegotten affront to the principles of free speech and a contemptuous attempt at stigmatizing and marginalizing pro-Israel students.

The bylaw reminds us of a successful effort by Palestinian and pro-Palestinian students at Concordia University in Montreal more than a decade ago to prevent Benjamin Netanyahu from delivering a speech on campus. This should never have happened.

Anti-Zionism, regrettably, is a growing phenomenon on American university campuses, which have become a battleground for pro-Zionist and anti-Zionist students. It must be fought vigorously.

Palestinian students and their supporters are entitled to their views, but they have no right whatsoever to suppress the opinions of pro-Israel students.

As they should know, universities are forums for untrammelled free speech. As Greg Keefe, the president of the University of Prince Edward Island, observed the other day, “The role of a university is to create safe spaces where people can debate and exchange ideas freely and without fear.”

The only speakers who should be banned from university campuses are despicable racists who advocate violence and incite racial, religious and ethnic hatred. Everyone else should be welcomed.

Students who support Israel and the concept of  Jewish statehood most definitely cannot be excluded from a university community. That is elementary and non-negotiable.

About the Author
Sheldon Kirshner is a journalist in Toronto. He writes at his online journal,