The Volokh Conspiracy
Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent
Following up on Friday's post about several major student groups at Berkeley Law pledging not to invite "speakers that have expressed and continued to hold views … in support of Zionism, the apartheid state of Israel, and the occupation of Palestine."
(1) Ken Marcus, whose op-ed on the situation spurred the controversy, responds to his critics here.
(2) Jewish Berkeley Law students talk about their reaction here. Note that Students for Justice in Palestine consulted with every affinity group at the law school before issuing the boycott pledge *except" the Jewish law students group.
(3) One point I didn't mention in my previous post is that SJP's statement seems part and parcel of a nationwide SJP campaign to specifically try to exclude Jews from "progressive spaces" unless they will specifically denounce Israel's existence. To take one of an unfortunately growing number of examples:
Two Jewish students at the State University of New York (SUNY) at New Paltz say they were booted from a support group for sexual assault victims and harassed by members of the group due to their Jewish identity, according to a complaint filed with the Education Department.
One of the victims, student Cassandra Blotner, says members of the support group threatened to spit on her in public for proudly being Jewish, while others called her a "dumb bitch" who supports "mass genocide" due to her support for Israel. The complaint alleges the university was "fully aware of the situation," yet did nothing to protect the students from the anti-Semitic hate campaign.
Again, this is a political strategy, rather than simply isolated incidents. Recall that the Women's March collapsed because its founders decided that Jews were not welcome. Also note that Palestinian lobby mouthpiece Rep. Rashida Tlaib recently stated that you can't be a progressive and support "Israel's apartheid government" and Linda Sarsour similarly remarked that one can't be a feminist and a "Zionist."
(4) But, you might object, that when Tlaib says "Israel's apartheid government" she doesn't mean "Israel," just the policies she objects to. That would make more sense if Tlaib wasn't on the record as supporting the replacement of all of Israel with "Palestine." Similarly, one commenter was quite insistent that when SJP says "Zionism" it does not mean "the existence of Israel," "the apartheid state of Israel" means only Israel's bad policies that they think is akin to apartheid, and the "occupation of Palestine" means only the occupation of the West Bank, not all of Israel. Anyone who knows SJP's history and politics would know that they mean, exactly, that anyone who supports Israel's existence should be forbidden from speaking. But just for the heck of it, I perused SJP Berkeley Law's Facebook page, which talks about "Israel's apartheid" going back to the late 1940s, ie, when Israel was founded, and well before the "occupation" of the West Bank. So when you see Tlaib, SJP, and others talk about "apartheid Israel," there is a very simple question to ask: Is there a time when you think Israel wasn't guilty of "apartheid," and is there anything Israel could do, short of surrendering in favor of a Palestinian Muslim-majority state, that would make Israel "not apartheid?" Once they evade that question, or maybe even answer honestly, you can be convinced, if you aren't already, that in practice the apartheid libel has nothing to do with Israel's policies, and everything to do with opposition to Israel's existence and the desire to replace it with a Palestinian Muslim majority state.
(5) Relatedly, one commenter acknowledges that SJP wants Israel to cease to exist, but adds that I neglect "as a Jewish state that privileges the Jewish majority." Let's assume for the sake of argument that there is something inherently wrong with having one tiny country devoted to preserving and protecting a people that's been subject to genocide and every form of oppression short of it in just the past century or so (mass pogroms during the Russian Revolution, expulsion from Arab countries, Soviet state antisemitism, etc., in addition to the Nazis.). Both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas promise a "Palestine" based on sharia, thus inherently privileging Muslims far more than Israel "privileges" its Jewish citizens. If this bothers any of the activists who claim to oppose Israel because it's "chauvinist," I have yet to encounter it. And as detailed in Benny Morris' One State, Two States, any Palestinians willing to countenance a binational state or similar arrangements were murdered or intimidated into silence by the dominant faction, leaving Jewish advocates of such a solution with nothing to go on.
Finally, the dominant Palestinian nationalist factions want either 2 Palestinian Muslim states, one only Arab-Muslim, and one majority Arab-Muslim with a maybe-tolerated Jewish minority, or one state with few if any Jews, the rest murdered or expelled. Few if any Palestinian nationalists are willing to publicly state that a Palestinian state should be contingent on the rights if Jewish Israelis being protected. Again, this bothers their supporters not at all. So spare me the suggestion that the underlying problem is inequality in Israel. Arab citizens in Israel have far greater equality than Jews in an Arab Palestine could hope for in the best of circumstances. (Which is why the trending trope is that Israeli Jews are "settler colonialists" and therefore have no rights.)
(6) Even that aside, you'd have to be utterly ignorant of the history of antisemitism to think that it "just so happens" that of all the countries in the world, the only people singled out for this boycott are supporters of the existence of Israel, regardless of how the individual might feel about any or all of Israel's policies, and that the only ethnic/religious group, ever, that would be almost entirely excluded by a Berkeley Law student boycott is Jews. It would be pointless for example, ask the Muslim and the MENA student groups why they don't rule out speakers who support Assad's Alawite Syrian dictatorship, responsible for the death of half a million Arabs, primarily Muslims far worse than even the craziest "antizionists" accuse Israel of doing. No Jews involved, so no reason to care.
(7) I can't find the link right now, but Berkeley's chancellor was quoted as stating that there is no legal rationale for prohibiting the student groups in question from exercising their "freedom of speech." I'm not sure that's true. First, California's public accommodations law is very, very broad, basically prohibiting excluding anyone from any public place (defined broadly) for any reason. There was even a case in which a German restaurant was sued by the ACLU for excluding people wearing Nazi insignia. Of course, no one would argue that SJP is obligated to bring in a pro-Israel speaker; that would violate its First Amendment rights. But can Berkeley Law Women decline to invite a speaker on abortion rights because that speaker has endorsed the existence of Israel? I think that's less than clear. Second, it's true that not all Jews support the existence of Israel, and not all people who publicly support Israel's right to exist are Jews. However, imagine an anti-gay rights group on campus got other organizations to sign a pledge that they will not invite any speaker on any topic who professes to support the right of same-sex couples to marry. Would the Chancellor be so confident that this would not be considered by civil rights agencies and courts to constitute discrimination based on sexual orientation, because same-sex marriage is so closely tied to that? I won't be belabor the analogy. I'm actually not a fan of the decisions universally holding that refusing to bake a cake for a same sex wedding constitutes sexual-orientation discrimination even if the patrons are always gay, but if that's going to be the sort of rule we live under, it should also apply to Jews. And going back to point 3, if anyone who *isn't* Jewish has faced harassment on campus for being a "Zionist," I have yet to encounter it.
(8) Adam Pukier of the Jewish Student Association at Berkeley Law, writes: "If I could do it over again, I would have asked LSJP to include the Jewish student group in the conversation. I would have encouraged other groups to seek out Jewish voices on campus. I would have engaged on an individual level in an open dialogue about Zionism and the BDS movement. I would have explained how it is possible for someone to harbor a deep sympathies for the Palestinian people, support the existence of the State of Israel and strongly criticize many of Israel's policies all at the same time — it is possible to be a Zionist and condemn the actions of Israel."
Mr. Pukier's efforts to stand up for Jewish students at Berkeley Law, which is hardly the popular thing to do there, are commendable. But surely he knows that SJP has no interest in having a conversation or dialogue with him or anyone who supports Israel's existence. SJP Tufts, for example, not only refuses "dialogue" with even left-wing groups like J Street that think Israel should exist, but urge others to boycott them entirely.
They are not interested in compromise, hearing other perspectives, or anything else. They want Israel to be replaced by Palestine and they have no other principle. Even the possibility of the genocide of the Jewish population of Israel is not a significant concern. Again, the point of calling Israeli Jews "settler colonialists" is that they should have no human rights, and just as, e.g., there are few regrets on the left for the many Frenchmen killed and ultimately expelled from Algeria, the same is true of Israel. Of course, most would likely prefer that the Jews surrender peacefully, but that's a preference, not a requirement.
As for the rest of Mr. Pukier's paragraph, it's missing something important. It's also possible to have a deep concern for the well-being of the Palestinian people and support the policies in general of the Israeli government, if one believes that it's not the Israeli government's policies that are the barrier to improving the lot of Palestinians, but the refusal, since the 1930s and continuing today, of Palestinian leaders to countenance a settlement that would allow a Jewish state of any borders in "Palestine." By suggesting that only harsh critics of Israel worry about Palestinian well-being, one is wrongly conceding that "Zionists" who are generally sympathetic to Israeli policies are inherently anti-Palestinian and implicitly bad people.