Last week, the University of California, Berkeley, took the top spot in the annual Forbes rankings of America's top colleges. The business magazine offered a whole host of reasons as to why Berkeley had been awarded the coveted title, including its "world-class academics, great sports, a stunning Bay Area setting, reasonable costs and a storied history."
Despite these plaudits, the college has been struggling with a deeply unpleasant problem for some years now: namely, rising antisemitism and a culture of anti-Israel bigotry on campus.
Just this month, Berkeley's Chancellor Carol Christ was forced to issue an apology in response to revelations by the Anti-Defamation League that Hatem Bazian, an Islamic law and theology scholar who teaches in the university's Departments of Near Eastern and Asian American and Asian Diaspora Studies, had retweeted a gruesome cartoon depicting an Israeli soldier holding up the heart of a Palestinian man.
Bazian, who was apparently not censured over his social media use, has a long history of antisemitic outbursts.
He previously retweeted an image of a Jewish man celebrating alongside the caption: "I can now kill, rape, smuggle organs & steal the land of Palestinians." Another image shared by the academic depicted North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un wearing a kippah and saying: "I converted all of North Korea to Judaism. Donald Tlump [sic]: Now my nukes are legal & I can annex South Korea & you need to start paying me 34 billion a year in welfare."
In an email, Bazian later claimed he had not been "careful enough" in reading the image text. He deleted the posts and added: "The image in the tweet and the framing relative to Judaism and conversion was wrong and offensive and not something that reflects my position, be it in the past or the present."
Just months later, Bazian, who is also president of the Students for Justice in Palestine, an NGO that has accused Israel of "genocide" and whose rhetoric has included complaints of "Judaization," retweeted several comments that used the hashtag #PalestinianHolocaust and compared the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip to a "concentration camp."
Despite Bazian's virulent antisemitism, his position at Berkeley does not appear to be in jeopardy.
How Jews are 'Collectively Responsible' for Israel
Unfortunately, Bazian's tenure appears to be the tip of the iceberg with regard to the scourge of antisemitism on Berkeley's campus, with documented incidents going back decades. However, recent years have seen the elite college thrust into the national media spotlight following several particularly unpleasant incidents.
One occurred last year when respected historian and Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt was giving a talk at the college about antisemitism.
Lipstadt's lecture was abruptly interrupted when a handful of students brandishing signs criticizing Israel marched on stage and stood facing the audience. It is relevant to note that Lipstadt was born in New York and her address was, as she pointed out, "not about Israel."
It is abundantly clear that she was targeted by these protesters because they believed that she, as a Jewish woman, was somehow representative of the State of Israel, which patently contravenes the IHRA's widely-adopted definition of antisemitism.
Despite this, there is no evidence that Berkeley's leadership issued a statement condemning this appalling protest.
Echoes of this type of antisemitic rhetoric were present at a 2019 meeting that was held to decide if certain candidates should be disqualified from the Student Action party over possible campaign finance violations.
During the meeting, members of Berkeley's Jewish community argued that considering one of the students was Jewish, their disqualification from the council would cause them to lose "essential representation."
Instead of noting that all individuals, irrespective of religion, should be held equally accountable for their actions and that if the Jewish student in question had indeed violated regulations then their dismissal from the council was warranted, a former student senator described Jews as crying "Zionist tears," while another claimed Jewish privilege was "implicit in the oppression of Palestine."
A joint statement signed by a number of Jewish groups hit out at those who use "Zionism as a code for Judaism," adding that such rhetoric contributes to the "oppression of Jewish people on this campus and beyond."
Celebrating Palestinian Terrorists on Campus
In February 2020, incidentally a mere two months after Lipstadt's lecture was targeted, a UC Berkeley student senator resigned from his position after the student government failed to pass a simple, but highly symbolic, resolution.
Milton Zerman had asked his fellows to join him in condemning a photographic display that had been put up by campus group Bears for Palestine, which claims to "enlighten, educate, and raise awareness about Palestinian culture, values, and history." Among the images this organization apparently thought was an appropriate representation of Palestinian culture was a picture of Rasmea Odeh, who was convicted for her role in orchestrating the 1969 Jerusalem supermarket bombing that killed two Hebrew University students.
Also included in the display were images of Fatima Bernawi, who in 1967 attempted to blow up a theater full of Israelis, as well as notorious plane hijacker Leila Khaled, who was even shown toting an AK-47 rifle in her portrait.
Resigning his post when the resolution failed in a 4-1 vote, Milton warned the decision had "alienated the vast majority of Jewish students" and left the student association without any "legitimacy or moral authority." Another student remarked the outcome was evidence of the casual "trivialization of Jewish death on this campus."
Following the vote, which was preceded by a fiery meeting that was reportedly characterized by raised voices and threats, Berkeley's Chancellor Carol Christ was clearly compelled to respond.
In a jarring statement, she contended that students "who support the Palestinian cause have a right to celebrate those they see as fighters for that cause, and their rights to express that support are fully protected by our country's constitution." Christ continued: "Jewish students have a right to feel dismay and concern after seeing a poster they perceive as honoring those who killed, or attempted to kill, unarmed Jewish civilians."
The Proliferation of Swastikas and Blood Libels
When American lawyer Alan Dershowitz was invited to campus in 2017 to deliver a lecture titled, 'The Liberal Case for Israel,' Berkeley's student-run newspaper the Daily Californian found itself embroiled in scandal when it published a cartoon showing a giant, smiling Dershowitz stomping on a person holding a Palestinian flag. In his hand is an armed Israeli soldier aiming his gun at an unarmed youth who is lying in a pool of blood.
Writing to the editor of the Daily Californian, Dershowitz criticized the cartoon as a "grotesque anti-Semitic blood libel propaganda," which was clearly a "hard-left Neo-Nazi expression," while also defending the right to publish it. In addition, he revealed that shortly after his campus lecture, a swastika had been drawn over his face on a poster that was plastered outside the UC Berkeley School of Law.
The newspaper's editor in chief Karim Doumar apologized following the backlash, saying it was evidence that he and his staff needed to have a "stronger understanding of the violent history and contemporary manifestations of anti-Semitism."
The swastika that was daubed over Dershowitz's face is not the first time this type of graffiti has been found on Berkeley's campus.
Jewish students have previously complained of Nazi symbols and "anti-Semitic slogans written on bathrooms" and on "random places on campus," which are painted over and then "dismissed."
Sadly, these are just a handful of alarming incidents of antisemitic and vicious anti-Israel hatred that have taken place at Berkeley over the last few years. There have been others.
However, they provide an illuminating snapshot of how what is considered one of America's best and most prestigious colleges is increasingly becoming a place where antisemitism and anti-Israel bigotry is openly expressed and all too common.