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California University 'Jewish-Free Zone' Bylaw Adopted By Nine Student Groups

'Free Speech And The Exchange Of Ideas Cannot Be Romanticized When The Byproduct Of Such Rhetoric causes Harm To Marginalized Communities' Said Supporters Of The Measure

Critics allege student groups at University of California, Berkeley have reportedly created a “Jewish-free” zone after activists forbade pro-Israel speakers at events.

Berkeley Law Students for Justice in Palestine (LSJP) shared a series of photos to their Instagram in late August appearing to outline their proposed bylaws seeking to boycott, sanction, and divest funds institutions, organizations, companies, and any entity participating in or “directly/indirectly complicit in the occupation of Palestinian territories and/or supports the apartheid state of Israel.”

The proposed bylaw has been adopted by nine different student groups at the University, including Berkeley Law Muslim Student Association, Middle Eastern and North African Law Students Association, Womxn of Color Collective, Asian Pacific American Law Students Association, Queer Caucus, Community Defense Project, Women of Berkeley Law, and Law Students of African Descent, according to one LSJP post. Law Students of African Descent has also adopted the bylaw Jewish Journal reported on Wednesday.

“[The organizations] will not invite speakers that have expressed interest and continue to hold views, host, sponsor or promote events in support of Zionism, the apartheid state of Israel and the occupation of Palestine,” reads the bylaw written by the LSJP which is allegedly designed to protect the interest, safety, and welfare of Palestinian students on campus.

“It is troubling to broadly exclude a particular viewpoint from being expressed,” said Dean of Berkeley School of Law Erwin Chemerinsky, who appeared to criticize the bylaw. “Indeed, taken literally, this would mean that I could not be invited to speak because I support the existence of Israel, though I condemn many of its policies.”

“Free speech and the exchange of ideas cannot be romanticized when the byproduct of such rhetoric causes harm to marginalized communities,” reads a letter by Jewish Berkeley Law students in support of LSJP. “The action of affinity groups to exercise democracy and choosing not to platform Zionists, who are either active or complicit in causing harm to Palestinians, from being platformed in their spaces is absolutely a tenable action.”

“Kenneth L. Marcus’ article, ‘Berkeley Develops Jewish-Free Zones,’ paints a misleading picture of what happened at Berkeley Law,” said Dean Chemerinsky, responding to civil rights lawyer Kenneth L. Marcus’ opinion article suggesting that the campus was creating “Jewish-Free Zones”.

“There is no “Jewish-Free Zone” at Berkeley Law or on the Berkeley campus,” Dean Chemerinsky continued:

Indeed, as Mr. Marcus advocates, and as I explained in a recent message to the Law School community: “The Law School has an “all-comers” policy, which means that every student group must allow any student to join and all student organized events must be open to all students.”  …  I have been in regular contact with our Jewish students about this. Mr. Marcus points out and identifies some student groups that adopted a statement drafted by Law Students for Justice In Palestine condemning Israel. … He also does not mention that in a letter to the leaders of student groups I expressed exactly his message:  excluding speakers on the basis of their viewpoint is inconsistent with our commitment to free speech and condemning the existence of Israel is a form of anti-Semitism. Finally, it is important to recognize that law student groups have free speech rights, including to express messages that I and others might find offensive.

“It is not just viewpoint discrimination,” said Marcus in response to Dean Chemerinsky’s letter:

When persons are excluded on the basis of their ethnic or ancestral identity, however, we must respond differently. It would not be acceptable for students to adopt bylaws banning Black or Chinese speakers, perhaps with an exception for Black or Chinese students who agree to criticize their communities. This would immediately be recognized as exclusionary conduct, not protected speech. And we would not accept the response that these groups permit Black or Chinese members, as long as these minorities do not wish to appear as speakers. We would recognize it as rank bigotry; and we would reject it. Discrimination should have no place at the University of California, or at any institution of higher learning.

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