Last November, two lawyers filed a civil rights inquiry against the UC Berkeley School of Law with the Federal government. This controversy began on August 23, 2022, when the student group Law Students for Justice in Palestine (LSJP) urged other clubs within the law school to adopt an amendment to bylaws stating that they "will not invite speakers that have expressed and continued to hold views or host/sponsor/promote events in support of Zionism."
The attorneys who filed the complaint, Arsen Ostrovsky and Gabriel Groisman, both allege a clear Title VI violation of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of national origin.
"The groups that have implemented this discriminatory policy attempt to hide their discrimination against the Jewish community by excluding 'Zionists,'" the two lawyers said in a statement. "This thin veil is completely transparent, as Zionism is an integral, indispensable, and core element of the Jewish identity."
Since August 2022, eight Berkeley Law student groups — including the Berkeley Law Muslim Student Association, Middle Eastern and North African Law Students Association, Women of Color Collective, Asian Pacific American Law Students Association, Queer Caucus, Community Defense Project, Women of Berkeley Law, and Law Students of African Descent — have amended their bylaws to include this discriminatory clause.
This policy, if enforced, would serve as a litmus test that more than 95% of Jewish Americans would not pass.
While the policy is at the center of the controversy, no one should be surprised that LSJP would call for adopting such a policy.
The group is part of a loosely affiliated network of student organizations co-founded by Hatem Bazian, a professor at UC Berkeley, with a documented history of antisemitism and hostility toward Jews and the State of Israel that has persisted for decades, since at least 2001.
Bazian often wrongly defines Zionism as a settler colonialist movement. In fact, Zionism is a movement of an indigenous population returning to its homeland. The Jewish people are indigenous to the land of Israel. The Hebrew language, Jewish faith, and traditions find their roots in the land.
While it is true that Jews were scattered across the world through numerous exiles and persecution, Jewish diaspora communities never lost their longing to return. From our prayers, sacred texts, and traditions, the land of Israel, and Jerusalem in particular, holds a deep significance for the Jewish people.
Furthermore, those who managed to stay in the land of Israel and maintain a continual presence there did so for thousands of years.
Bazian's attempt to depict Zionism as "settler-colonialism" predicated on "racism" and "genocide" makes no sense. How can one be accused of colonizing their homeland? Furthermore, Jews have long accepted the presence of Arabs in the land, extending offers for peace and co-existence, which have been reciprocated with periods of intense violence targeting Jewish civilians by Palestinian terrorists and the Palestinian leadership.
Despite the endless terrorism and wars launched against it, including immoral forms of terrorism such as the frequent use of human shields by Palestinian terror groups, Israel prioritizes the safety and security of Palestinian civilians just as much as they do Israeli lives. IDF programs like roof knocking and refusing to strike targets in areas with a heavy civilian presence conflict with Bazian's claim that Israel is committing genocide against Palestinians.
There are also recordings of IDF soldiers refusing to strike terrorists when children are sighted in buildings. If the claim of genocide were true, why would Israel take such measures? Let's also take into account that the Palestinian population has long been increasing in both the West Bank and Gaza.
Bazian has also, on several occasions, compared Israel to Nazi Germany. This antisemitic trope, when one compares the Jewish state to a country that systematically murdered millions of Jews and minorities, is wrong and trivializes one of the darkest chapters in Jewish and human history. Furthermore, it is intellectually dishonest to attempt to label Israelis as Nazis.
The State of Israel was founded on the following principle: "[The State of Israel] will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race, or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education, and culture..."
And Israel has kept its promise to all of its citizens. In fact, over 20% of Israel's citizens are Arab. They all have the right to vote in Israeli elections and receive the same civil rights and social benefits that Jewish Israelis receive. They serve in every segment of society, from the Knesset, to the Supreme Court, and every facet of private life.
So why do these Berkeley student groups believe so strongly in these anti-Israel normalization policies? Perhaps it is because their arguments do not hold up to scrutiny.
It's not hard to see how LSJP will benefit from the spread of its heinous amendment against Israel that is based on nothing but lies. The result of such a policy is an echo chamber where anti-Zionist perspectives are unchallenged, and less informed students are entirely unaware that the propaganda spread by groups like LSJP and Bazian is largely inaccurate.
I urge students and faculty members to take a hard stance against these inherently anti-intellectual, anti-Jewish bylaws and condemn the vile antisemitism upon which they are predicated. They should stand in support of the UC Berkeley Jewish community.
Ron Belman is a current CAMERA Fellow at UC Berkeley, and former Club Z Teen.