Tolerating the Intolerant at Berkeley

How could it be that one of the world’s leading universities hosts a project, ostensibly devoted to combating prejudice, led by someone known for hostility toward Jews and Israel?

The University of California at Berkeley is home to the Islamophobia Research & Documentation Project (IRDP) run by rabidly anti-Israel lecturer Hatem Bazian. An initiative of the Center for Race & Gender (CRG), the IRDP “focuses on a systematic and empirical approach to the study of Islamophobia and its impact on the American Muslim community.”

The IRDP defines “Islamophobia” as ‘unfounded hostility towards Muslims, and therefore fear or dislike of all or most Muslims.’” Apologists for radical Islam have adopted the term as a corollary to anti-Semitism, which they believe is used by Jews to silence critics of Israel. By accusing people of “Islamophobia,” they seek to prevent valid criticism of Islam or Muslims.

Promoters of “Islamophobia” seek to undermine U.S. counterterrorism efforts, which they assert are unfairly targeting Muslims. In 2015, for example, the CRG sponsored a conference targeting the Department of Homeland Security’s program to combat violent extremism in the United States. The program was titled, “Institutionalizing Islamophobia: Critiquing the Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) Framework and Emerging Programs.”

It is undeniable that Muslims face persecution; however, suggesting that fears about the beliefs and behavior of Muslims are irrational ignores the reality of radical Islam and the threats and atrocities carried out in the name of the religion. Moreover, anti-Islamic hate crimes in the United States are a fraction of those directed at Jews. According to FBI statistics, approximately 54% of offenses based on religion in 2016 were anti-Jewish; 24% were anti-Islamic, and the number of incidents involving Muslims were 36% lower than the high reported in 2001. Despite the disparity, Berkeley does not have an Anti-Semitism Research and Documentation Project.

One of Bazian’s favored tactics is to use his position as IRDP director to tar Jews with the “Islamophobia” brush. Last year, he accused “mainstream American Jewish organizations” of being “incubators for Islamophobia” and giving legitimacy to “members of the Islamophobia industry.” In 2016, IRDP published a report in partnership with the Islamist Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), that singled out pro-Israel groups and individuals as promoters of “Islamophobia,” including the Middle East Forum and its president Daniel Pipes.

The IRDP website does not identify any sponsors or funders, so how does the project manage to pay Bazian and a visiting scholar, produce a biannual journal and put on an annual conference?

When asked, Bazian did not respond.

Some money for the project is cobbled together from various parts of the university – all taxpayer dollars. According to campus spokesman Dan Mogulof, IRDP “receives on average $300 annually from the Center for Race and Gender.” Bazian is paid as a lecturer in the departments of Near Eastern and Asian American and Asian Diaspora Studies. According to Mogulof, some conference expenses were paid in the past by the Center for Middle Eastern Studies and from the University’s Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society.

While it may be possible to justify the study of intolerance directed at Muslims in the context of anti-religious prejudice, it is indefensible to put a person in charge of that project who expresses bigoted opinions toward others.

Bazian is a founder of the Students for Justice in Palestine organization that now leads anti-Israel and anti-Semitic boycott activities on campuses around the country. He is also a founder of American Muslims for Palestinians (AMP), an organization the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) says promotes “extreme anti-Israel views and has at times provided a platform for anti-Semitism under the guise of educating Americans” about Palestinians.

Bazian has a long history of statements and actions hostile to Jews and Israel. He attracted international opprobrium when he retweeted anti-Semitic cartoons. He apologized, but his mea culpa revealed his disdain for the state of the Jews: “As a Palestinian, my issue is with Zionism, a settler colonial movement and Israel’s policies directed at Palestinians under occupation and those that live as second or maybe fourth-class citizens in the state and not with Judaism or Jews, as diverse communities.”

After an avalanche of bad publicity, the University issued a statement that many Jews considered inadequate: “While we do not believe that all criticism of Israel’s governmental policies is inherently anti-Semitic, the social media posts in question clearly crossed the line, and we are pleased they have been deleted. We deeply regret the impact these posts have had on members of our campus community and the public at large. UC Berkeley is and will remain committed to fostering and sustaining a campus community, and a world, where everyone feels safe, welcome and respected.”

When asked how the university could allow a person with Bazian’s views to head a program concerned with tolerance of a minority, Mogulof only addressed the retweet controversy. He said the issue has not been settled and the university is taking it seriously.

A coalition of Berkeley Jewish students called on the university to fire Bazian. In response, Oscar Dubón, Vice Chancellor for Equity & Inclusion wrote, “I oppose and condemn bias, hatred, prejudice and discrimination, most definitely including anti-Semitism. I want to work with you to build and sustain a respectful, safe and welcoming campus environment.”

Dubón dismissed the students’ examples of lecturers fired at Oberlin and the University of Tampa as immaterial since, unlike those private schools, Berkeley is a public institution with different legal obligations regarding the First Amendment. He also echoed arguments made by Bazian and other critics of Israel, writing “there is much debate and disagreement” as to where to draw the line “between political criticism of Israel’s governmental policies and intolerable, anti-Semitic content that targets the Jewish people.”

Translated this appears to mean: We cannot prove Bazian is an anti-Semite and his right to free speech precludes us from firing him.

Bazian is being defended by AMP, which called on “people of conscience” to tell the university “not to buckle to pro-Israel organizations’ pressure.”

The university chose expediency over decency and Bazian’s status remains unchanged.

Bazian is entitled to speak his mind, but as a non-tenured lecturer he is not guaranteed employment. Furthermore, the First Amendment does not give him the right to lead a research program that gives him a platform to attack Jews and Israel, and to pursue a political agenda aimed at silencing critics of Islam, denying the existence of radical Islam, and denouncing efforts to address threats Islamists pose to Western society.

Taxpayers should ask why the University of California supports this agenda and allows someone with a history of intolerance to propagate it.

Dr. Mitchell Bard is a Berkeley alum and the author/editor of 23 books including The Arab Lobby and the novel After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.

About the Author
Dr Mitchell Bard is the Executive Director of the nonprofit American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise (AICE) and a foreign policy analyst who lectures frequently on U.S.-Middle East policy. Dr. Bard is the director of the Jewish Virtual Library, the world's most comprehensive online encyclopedia of Jewish history and culture. He is also the author/editor of 24 books, including The Arab Lobby, Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews and the novel After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.
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