SJP at UC Berkeley responds to bigotry on campus
The following op-ed was written by Kumars Salehi and David McCleary
Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at the University of California at Berkeley (UCB) has been the target of harassment and racism in the wake of two major protests, carried out as part of its annual Israeli Apartheid Week activities raising awareness on campus about the plight of Palestinians. The perpetrators of this harassment include the Executive Director of UC Berkeley Hillel–a chilling reminder of the impunity with which pro-Palestinian students are intimidated and suppressed on this and other campuses.
More than 600 Berkeley students received mock eviction notices as part of a peaceful protest by UC Berkeley SJP members on Feb. 23rd. The flyers (which were clearly marked as fake, with “This is not a real eviction notice” written in bold letters at the bottom of the page) were slipped under every door on every floor of every building in the Unit 2 dormitories, with the exception of a single floor in one building, where students were prevented from exercising their right to free expression by a Resident Advisor.
The flyers called attention to the real eviction notices that Palestinians in the Occupied Territories receive from the Israeli military as part of the Israeli government’s policy of expelling Palestinians from their land in order to build ethnically-exclusive settlements, an ongoing project of ethnic cleansing that has resulted in approximately 27,000 Palestinian homes being demolished since 1967.
Two days later, on Feb. 25th, UC Berkeley’s SJP members set up a mock apartheid wall and checkpoint reenactment in front of Sather Gate to highlight Israel’s 26 foot-high wall, complete with electric barbed-wire fencing, which runs through West Bank villages and farmlands. The wall was ruled illegal by the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Israel also maintains hundreds of transportation checkpoints in the West Bank, which allow Israeli settlers to pass freely while Palestinians can be detained for hours or even days before being allowed to pass through.
Over several hours, actors playing Israeli soldiers, Israeli settlers, and Palestinians repeated a short but powerful scene offering Berkeley students a glimpse of the systematic abuse and discrimination Palestinians face on a daily basis.
During the protest, a man arguing with a Palestinian student asked the student why “the average Palestinian wants to blow himself up on a bus.” Student witnessed the harassment take place and identified the man as Adam Naftalin-Kelman, Executive Director of UC Berkeley Hillel.
Another SJP member received an anonymous phone call that included a series of statements associating SJP with the Palestinian resistance organization Hamas, with which SJP is no way affiliated. This call ended with a chilling and unambiguous threat: “you better shut down, you’re next.”
It is not difficult to see how a recent campaign on college campuses across the country by the David Horowitz Freedom Center, hanging large posters blaming SJP for violence perpetrated by Hamas with the label “#JewHaters”, feeds this sort of violent animosity.
Targeted harassment of individuals affiliated with SJP is nothing new. Even in the weeks leading up to UC at Berkeley SJP’s events, when the club hadn’t been active for months, one of our members received Islamophobic threats via email. These emails included threats and disgustingly offensive cartoon depictions of the Prophet Muhammad. It didn’t seem to matter to the bigot that these messages were sent to one of several Jewish UCB SJP members.
There is no place for racist and Islamophobic messages on UC Berkeley’s campus and these actions demand a firm public response from the UCB administration.
Rabbi Naftalin-Kelman has openly verbally assaulted Palestinians and Pro-Palestinian students on campus. He was seen on campus spewing blatantly racist stereotypes at a Palestinian student and threatened reprisal from the Israeli government should the people critical of Israel come forward.
Meanwhile, the University of California currently has investments in companies like Caterpillar, which produce the armored bulldozers the Israeli military uses to raze Palestinian homes in the West Bank, and Lockheed Martin, which manufactures the Hellfire missiles Israel uses to deliberately target Palestinian civilians in Gaza.
UC Berkeley’s SJP members will continue to vocally support the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it respects Palestinians’ human rights. The UC Student Assembly, the UC grad student union, and 7 of 9 undergraduate UC campuses have passed resolutions calling for divestment from companies complicit in the occupation, but the UC Regents continue to ignore students’ voices.
With these actions, we are calling on the Regents to honor the consensus in favor of divestment. This is why we also delivered the mock eviction notice to Chancellor Dirks: He has the power to influence the Regents, and we believe students have the power to influence Chancellor Dirks.
In the meantime, the administration has a chance to make good on its recent commitment to creating safe spaces for Middle Eastern and Muslim students by investigating and condemning racist harassment targeting SJP members, including the harassment by leaders at the top levels of the campus community. The Associated Students University of California at Berkeley Senate has taken well-publicized steps recently to combat anti-Semitism at the university, in response to an anonymous act of anti-Semitism at UC Davis. UCB SJP hopes administrators, student government representatives, and the campus press will take similar steps to combat the clear pattern of public bigotry against Middle Eastern and Muslim students here at Berkeley.
Kumars Salehi and David McCleary are graduate students at UC Berkeley and members of Students for Justice in Palestine. For questions or comments please contact David McCleary at firstname.lastname@example.org