Saturday, November 15, 2008
Incident at UC-Berkeley
Cross-posted by Gary Fouse
On the evening of November 13, there was a violent incident at the University of California at Berkeley involving students from two student groups; the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Zionist Freedom Alliance (ZFA). The event occurred during a ZFA hip hop concert promoting Israel Liberation Week. During the event, members of the SJP showed up carrying Palestinian flags on a balcony of Eshleman Hall overlooking the event. It appears that a confrontation ensued on the balcony between members of both groups. At this point, there are different versions of how the fight started or who assaulted whom. What is known is that a fist-fight ensued and a handful of students were charged with battery, apparently on both sides.
Below, I have put up the competing versions from both groups' websites. First is the ZFA version, followed by the SJP version. Finally, I have posted the up-dated version by the Daily Californian (UC Berkeley's campus newspaper).
Members of Students for Justice in Palestine Attack Jews at UC Berkeley Hip-Hop Concert
(Berkeley, CA- November 13, 2008)
"We, the Zionist Freedom Alliance student group at Cal, are deeply concerned by the latest in a series of attacks on Jewish and pro-Israel students at UC Berkeley perpetrated by members of Students for Justice in Palestine. On the night of November 13, 2008 at around 6:00 PM, members of Students for Justice in Palestine disrupted our hip-hop concert that celebrated the Jewish connection to the land of Israel. Then they attacked students who asked them to stop their disruption.
Three members of the Students for Justice in Palestine illegally draped large Palestinian flags behind the stage of the concert, which was part of Israel Liberation Week. Yehuda De Sa (one of the performers), Cal alumnus Gabe Weiner, and current ASUC Senator John Moghtader walked to the balcony from which the flags were hanging and asked the students to remove the flags as they misrepresented the concert's message. The SJP members immediately became hostile at this request and current SJP leader Husam Zakharia instigated a physical altercation by striking Weiner on the head. As Weiner and the performer tried to defend themselves, Moghtader stood away from the scuffle and then made a successful effort to break up the fight.
Members of Students for Justice in Palestine shouted anti-Semitic epithets referencing the Holocaust throughout the ordeal. Zakharia and others from SJP were detained by the police and charged with battery. Citizens' arrests were filed against SJP members who took part in the altercation.
The violence, intimidation, and harassment exhibited by members of Students for Justice in Palestine at the concert is only one act in a pattern of similar behavior that they have exhibited towards Jewish and pro-Israel students on this campus. Last year, multiple charges were filed against SJP and some of its members citing harassment, violence, intimidation, and violation of numerous other campus rules. These charges all went ignored by Dean of Students Jonathan Poullard.
We call on state officials, the President of the University of California, the Chancellor, the Dean of Students, faculty, and the student body to take a unified stand against the continued harassment of Jewish and pro-Israel students on this campus, particularly by members of Students for Justice in Palestine."
Here below is the Students for Peace and Justice in Palestine version on their website:
"SJP is extremely concerned about a violent attack on three Arab Palestinian students on the evening of November 13, 2008 around 6:00PM, and calls upon campus administrators and authorities to immediately investigate the incident and bring those responsible to justice.
According to dozens of witnesses on the scene, three organizers for the “Zionist Freedom Alliance” attacked one male and two female Arab students who stood nearby the event holding a Palestinian flag. The assailants were identified by the Daily Californian to include current ASUC student senator John Moghtader, Cal alumnus Gabe Weiner, and performer Yehuda De sa. The paper also reported that all three had been cited by the UC Police Department on several counts of battery (Update 9:00AM 11/14: The Daily Californian now identifies only Gabe Weiner as having been cited. We are unsure what the status of the other two individuals is).
The three Arab students had decided to display the flag as a silent statement after hearing offensive anti-Arab remarks at the concert. They did not attempt to interfere with the event. Shortly after they put their flags on display, the assailants were seen angrily rushing into Eshleman Hall and disturbing several meetings to reach the protestors who were located on the 2nd floor balcony. Students on the scene report that the men were yelling racial epithets directed at Arabs and Palestinians.
When the assailants arrived at the balcony, they attempted to push the protestors aside and take their flags away. Witnesses claim that the assailants eventually knocked one protestor against the balcony railing, with a scuffle ensuing where two Arab students, one male and one female, were hit several times. Within a few minutes the assailants began to rush away, though a small group of their supporters had followed them upstairs. Throughout the process the assailants and their supporters were also overheard making remarks like, “we’re about to take care of some f***ing Palestinians,” and “you Arab dogs, we will kill you.”
The group of assailants was eventually pushed away by a crowd of students who were waiting for the police to arrive and collect statements. One of the assailants accused his victims of assaulting him, causing citations to be issued on the victims despite the testimony of several witnesses on the scene refuting the claim. Fortunately nobody was seriously hurt during the ordeal.
SJP is concerned by the willful and concerted escalation to violence by these individuals, who are members of student organization Tikvah. SJP disagrees with the Daily Californian’s characterization of the event as the result of “tensions between Palestinian and Jewish students.” In fact, the incident was isolated, and the assailants are not representative of the Jewish community at Cal. After a series of similar threatening encounters with a handful of individuals this semester, SJP members began to document these incidents. Two of the attackers, John Moghtader and Gabe Weiner, were involved in another outburst at a campus lecture last month that led the Jewish Student Union to place Tikvah on probation [1, 2].
SJP calls upon campus administrators to pursue the incident immediately, and for students to remain committed to resolving their political differences through peaceful dialogue and discussion."
Here is the report by the UCB Student Newspaper, the Daily Californian:
By Will Kane and Vincent Quan
Daily Cal Staff Writers
Friday, November 14, 2008 3:10 am
Category: News > City > Crime
"A previous version of this story was removed by editors after we became aware that some facts in the story were incorrect. That story has been replaced with this updated version.
The Daily Californian holds itself to high journalistic standards and always strives to produce objective and accurate content. The Daily Cal follows the ethics policy laid out by the Society of Professional Journalists, which is available at http://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp.
If you have any comments or questions regarding this article or our policies, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org."
-Bryan Thomas, Editor in Chief & President
"Tensions between Palestinian and Jewish students on campus ran high Thursday night after a fight broke out on an Eshleman Hall balcony overlooking a concert promoting Israel Liberation Week.
At about 5:45 p.m., as rap artists performed on Lower Sproul Plaza, three Palestinian students hung up two Palestinian flags on the building's second floor balcony, witnesses said. The students said they were responding to the anti-Palestinian lyrics they heard.
Upon seeing the flags, ASUC Senator John Moghtader, former senator Gabe Weiner and Yeduda De sa, the concert's opening act, went up to the balcony in an attempt to remove the flags. All three men are Jewish.
At that point, a fight broke out, police said. Witnesses added that the fight prompted up to half a dozen members of the audience to run up to the second floor. Police said two students and one non-student were cited for battery. Weiner was one of those students.
"I went up to the second floor because the message they were sending was an abomination to our national rights," Weiner said.
Senior Husam Zakharia, who was hit in the face during the altercation, said the rap lyrics he heard spurred him to hang up the Palestinian flag.
"We're going to go up and we're going to put up our Palestinian flag in silent protest-exercising our freedom of speech to say we're here and we exist," he said, adding that he was surprised by the violent reaction.
A number of UCPD officers and Dean of Students Jonathan Poullard spent at least two hours interviewing students and witnesses, attempting to piece together the series of events.
According to police, the fight was related to incidents of vandalism earlier this semester. In September, a bus stop sign outside Eshleman Hall promoting Israel was vandalized. That vandalism was followed by pro-Israel graffiti in a classroom in Dwinelle Hall, increasing tension among Israeli and Palestinian advocacy groups on campus.
As the altercation on Thursday night took place, Eshleman Hall's second floor was full of ASUC officials including President Roxanne Winston.
Many senators who saw the fight expressed shock that such an incident could happen among students, most notably former and current ASUC senators.
"I'm very strong now in my sentiments in that there should be immediate disciplinary action," said ASUC Senator Kifah Shah. "If it culminates to violence where three members of SJP (Students for Justice in Palestine) are hit ... then that's just ridiculous."
So who actually instigated this violence? At this point it is not clear. I am not familiar with either organization. Therefore, I am going to withhold judgement until more information emerges.
I do know one thing, however. The UC system, especially UC Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz, and UCI (where I have taught part-time for 10 years) has been plagued for some years by tension between Jewish and Muslim students due to the Israeli-Palestinian issue. I have repeatedly written about the hate speech being brought to UCI by the Muslim Student Union, so I won't go over that here.
What this incident illustrates is that the leadership of these universities has been negligent in putting the lid on this situation. One would think that the so-called leaders at these universities would have opened their eyes and realized that they have a volatile situation on their campuses. Their defenders tell us that the chancellors at UCI and UCSC (Michael Drake and George Blumenthal respectively) have spoken out strongly against hate speech. Where they are wrong is that statements condemning "hate speech" in general don't suffice. When has the Chancellor of UCI, Michael Drake, or the Vice Chancellor of UCI, Manuel Gomez, ever publicly stated that the words we have heard over and over at UCI by the likes of Amir Abdel Malik Ali glorifying suicide bombers in Israel or Momammed al-Asi calling Jews "low-life ghetto-dwellers" constitute hate speech and are to be condemned? When has the chancellor of UCSC, Mr Blumenthal, made similar statements?
And what about the President of the UC system, Mark Yudof? President Yudof (himself a practicing Jew and strong supporter of Israel), though newly-installed, knows the reports that have emanated out of UCI and UCSC. He has heard the complaints about the tepid responses from those campuses' leaders. Yet, he talks of "free speech" and defends his chancellors. Will he now take a fresh look at what is going on in his own university system?
One day, on one of the UC campuses, there is going to be a tragedy. Instead of a fist-fight, someone is going to be seriously injured-or even killed. And then, everyone will ask, "How could this have happened here-on our campus?" I won't be asking because I will know.
It is time for a thorough housecleaning in the UC system.