BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA: In an eyebrow-raising move, the University of California, Berkeley's Bears for Palestine (BFP) expressed their support for the Palestinian militant group Hamas, just hours after a deadly attack on Israel left more than 1,300 people dead.
This display of solidarity with Hamas is the latest in a series of actions that have drawn criticism and controversy surrounding the students' group.
Bears for Palestine, or BFP, which is named after the university's mascot, is the founding chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a network of pro-Palestinian student groups across the United States.
SJP has faced accusations of demonizing Jewish students and fostering a hostile atmosphere on campuses.
Hatem Bazian's role
The group's founder, Hatem Bazian, a lecturer in Asian American and Asian Diaspora Studies, has been at the center of the controversy.
Bazian has a history of justifying terror attacks against Israel and supporting the concept of Intifada (uprising) in the United States.
Following Hamas' attack on Israel, BFP issued a statement expressing support for "the resistance, the liberation movement, and indisputably supports the Uprising."
They also organized a vigil for "martyrs in Palestine" on Friday, October 14. Bazian himself shared a video titled "Here's why Hamas says its attack on Israel wasn't unprovoked," adding fuel to the controversy.
The professor has previously made inflammatory statements, such as a quote from the Daily Mail where he said, "The Day of Judgment will not happen until the trees and stones will say, 'Oh Muslim, there is a Jew hiding behind me, come and kill him.'"
In addition to these statements, Bazian has come under scrutiny for sharing offensive cartoons, including one depicting a stereotypical Orthodox Jewish man celebrating the murder and rape of Palestinians.
Another cartoon showed North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un wearing a kippah and demanding money from the United States.
SJP student members often keep their identities anonymous, using pictures with their faces covered or turned away from the camera on social media, making it challenging to identify them.
They frequently use images of Islamist fighters to promote their events, seeing themselves as freedom fighters targeted for their beliefs.
Glorification of convicted terrorists
In 2020, BFP displayed images of convicted terrorists, including Fatima Bernawi, Rasmea Odeh, and Leila Khaled, labeling them as "Palestinian leaders".
This display was condemned by Jewish students who demanded its removal, but Berkeley's student government voted down a resolution condemning it.
In 2022, the group held a gala "in honor of the unity intifada," which saw Palestinian leaders call for riots and attacks against Jews, and Hamas launched thousands of rockets into populated areas in Israel amid tensions in Jerusalem over a property dispute.
One of the recurring events organized by BFP is 'Israel Apartheid Week' held in collaboration with Berkeley Law Students for Justice in Palestine.
This group often joins and co-signs BFP's activities and has also expressed support for Hamas. Both groups repeatedly use the phrase, "From the River to the Sea," which implies the end of the State of Israel.
The statements and actions of BFP and its supporters have been met with strong opposition, particularly from Jewish students who feel that the group trivializes Jewish deaths on campus.
Shelby Weiss, a Jewish student senator, remarked on the matter and said, "It just never ceases to amaze me the trivialization of Jewish death on this campus."
A representative of the controversial group spoke to The Daily Californian anonymously "for security reasons," stating, "As Palestinians, we're always attacked when we try to speak about our injustices. The truth is hard to hear, and many choose to be ignorant."
Unapologetic support for Palestinians
Despite the controversy and criticism they face, BFP remains unapologetic in their support of what they perceive as the Palestinian right to defend themselves from "Israeli occupation."
In a letter signed by 51 student organizations from various colleges across the country, they state, "We invariably reject Israel's framing as a victim. Whereas to demonize and condemn indigenous resistance is to overshadow the decades of oppression, ethnic cleansing, and destruction of the Palestinian people."
"We echo the call to action for all Arabs and Palestinians in the diaspora to rise up to support the liberation of our occupied people. From the River to the Sea, we will continue to support resistance until we are able to return home to a unified Palestine. Glory to Palestine, glory to the resistance, and glory to our martyrs," the letter added.
The statement was signed by student organizations from different colleges, including those known for their left-leaning ideologies, such as Koreans for Decolonization, Jewish Students for Palestine, the Iraqi Student Union, and Central Americans for Empowerment.
Organizations from other schools in the state, such as the Arab Student Union and the Asian Pacific Coalition at UCLA, also signed the letter.