The Volokh Conspiracy

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Berkeley Students Post Anti-Semitic Cartoons, Disrupt Dinner at Dean Chemerinsky's Home

"I never thought I would see such blatant antisemitism."


Back in October, UC Berkeley Dean Erwin Chemerinsky wrote that "Nothing has prepared me for the antisemitism I see on college campuses now." At the time, I praised Erwin's bold remarks, though I feared things would only get worse. And they have.

Last week, Berkeley Law Students for Justice in Palestine depicted Dean Chemerinsky in a cartoon with blood-soaked utensils. This image appeals to the ancient blood libel that has pervaded anti-semitic propaganda for millennia. That students thought this image was appropriate is shocking. Failure to use the appropriate pronouns is immediately grounds for cancellation. But invoking the trope that Jews eat children is just another meme.

The purpose of this cartoon was to encourage students to protest a student dinner that Chemerinsky was scheduled to hold at his home.

Regrettably, students protested the dinner at Erwin's home. So far, I have only found a short video posted by supporters of the protest. It shows Chemerinsky's wife, Prof. Catherine Fisk, trying to take the microphone away from the student. We do not know what happened beforehand. Remarkably, the student said she had a First Amendment right to protest in Erwin's home. Erwin, ever the teacher, actually said "the First Amendment does not apply." Even as these students are disrupting a dinner at Chemerinsky's own home, Erwin still felt compelled to be the bigger person, and an educator.

Here is Erwin's description of the event:

I write this with profound sadness. Since I became a dean, my wife and I have invited the first-year students to our home for dinner. We were asked this year by the presidents of the third year class to have the graduating students over for dinner because they began in Fall 2021 when COVID prevented us from having dinners for them. We were delighted to oblige and designated three nights – April 9, 10, 11 – that graduating students could choose among. I never imagined that something that we do to help our community would become ugly and divisive.

Last week, there was an awful poster, on social media and bulletin boards in the law school building, of a caricature of me holding a bloody knife and fork, with the words in large letters, "No dinner with Zionist Chem while Gaza starves." I never thought I would see such blatant antisemitism, with an image that invokes the horrible antisemitic trope of blood libel and that attacks me for no apparent reason other than I am Jewish. Although many complained to me about the posters and how it deeply offended them, I felt that though deeply offensive, they were speech protected by the First Amendment. But I was upset that those in our community had to see this disturbing, antisemitic poster around the law school.

The students responsible for this had the leaders of our student government tell me that if we did not cancel the dinners, they would protest at them. I was sad to hear this, but made clear that we would not be intimidated and that the dinners would go forward for those who wanted to attend. I said that I assumed that any protest would not be disruptive.

On April 9, about 60 students came to our home for the dinner. All had registered in advance. All came into our backyard and were seated at tables for dinner. While guests were eating, a woman stood up with a microphone, stood on the top step in the yard, and began a speech, including about the plight of the Palestinians. My wife and I immediately approached her and asked her to stop and leave. The woman continued. When she continued, there was an attempt to take away her microphone. Repeatedly, we said to her that you are a guest in our home, please stop and leave. About 10 students were clearly with her and ultimately left as a group.

The dinner, which was meant to celebrate graduating students, was obviously disrupted and disturbed. I am enormously sad that we have students who are so rude as to come into my home, in my backyard, and use this social occasion for their political agenda.

The dinners will go forward on Wednesday and Thursday. I hope that there will be no disruptions; my home is not a forum for free speech. But we will have security present. Any student who disrupts will be reported to student conduct and a violation of the student conduct code is reported to the Bar.

I have spent my career staunchly defending freedom of speech. I have spent my years as dean trying hard to create a warm, inclusive community. I am deeply saddened by these events and take solace that it is just a small number of our students who would behave in such a clearly inappropriate manner.


Things will only continue to get worse.

UPDATE: Here is a video that shows more of the disruption. The student says that the National Lawyers Guild informed her she has a First Amendment right to speak at Chemerinsky's home. The NLG also organized the protest of my event at CUNY on (checks note) the importance of free speech.