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Saturday, November 22, 2008

The trials of a pro-Israel student group at Berkeley

From J, the Jewish News Weekly of Northern California (h/t Tia):
Long a hotbed of anti-Israel activity, U.C. Berkeley has barely had a strong pro-Israel presence on campus. Until now, with Tikvah: Students for Israel, the Zionist student group at U.C. Berkeley.

We are the group that stepped up to protest when academics John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt visited Cal in October 2007 to hawk their book, a nefarious smear job titled “The Jewish Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy.”

We were also there last month when the virulently anti-Israel academic Norman Finkelstein came to speak.

Before the lecture, we respectfully distributed our literature outside. Once inside, Finkelstein’s level of anti-Semitic vitriol prompted a walkout of Tikvah students and others not associated with our group. We shouted out our opinions while exiting, as the crowd hurled expletives at us. Finkelstein and his colleague then continued delivering their insulting lies.

As a result, the dean of students is now seeking to discipline Tikvah and individual students for an “offense” which in the past barely warranted mention when undertaken by student groups involved in anti-Israel activities.

For example, when Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes tried to speak on campus several years ago, he was shouted down by members of Students for Justice in Palestine and the Muslim Student Association. At the time the chancellor said, “Uncivil behavior, lamentable as it is, is not a crime, nor is it a violation of the Code of Student Conduct.” No disciplinary action was taken against SJP or its members for that incident, nor when Nonie Darwish was likewise shouted down a year ago.

Only last week, SJP disrupted an innovative Zionist hip-hop concert on campus. Even though no Jewish students were involved in the physical altercation that ensued (contrary to what was reported in the school paper and what SJP claims), we wait to see how the university will deal with the assailants from SJP.

Other violations by SJP of the U.C. code of conduct — such as blocking of pedestrian traffic with demonstrations, the brandishing of fake firearms, physical harassment and intimidation of Jewish students — were presented to the dean of students but have been ignored.

What we see here is a double standard, one for the rest of campus and another for the Jews and those who actively support Israel.

Our tax dollars support the U.C. system, and Jewish donors are very prominent in supporting the U.C. campuses. It’s time for the Jewish community to become aware of what is happening at our university.

Meanwhile, Tikvah has a consistent record of positive, pro-Israel programming on campus. Until our inception a year ago, there was no substantive pro-Israel voice on campus. We changed that, attracting students of various religious and cultural backgrounds to our cause. We have collaborated with many off-campus groups, including the Israeli Consulate, Israel Peace Initiative, S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council, U.C. Berkeley Chabad, CAMERA, StandWithUs, JIMENA and more. Once again Jews walk with pride across Sproul Plaza.

We have also sponsored many successful events. On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we took out ads in the student newspaper highlighting the civil rights leader’s strong support of the Jewish state. We have hosted lectures by Dennis Prager, Stanley Urman, Israeli Vice Consul Ishmael Khaldi (who spoke about being the highest-ranking Muslim in the Israeli foreign service) and others.

Last year we held two weeklong programs brimming with pro-Israel activities: Israel Peace and Diversity Week and Israel@60 Week (which included a widely attended on-campus Holocaust memorial on Yom HaShoah). We just finished our latest effort, Israel Liberation Week, and we have also been a positive influence on student government, with John Moghtader, a current senator in the Associated Students of the University of California, leading our group.

We are a grassroots student group. Our goal is to make sure Jewish students do not have to be subjected to a hostile anti-Israel, anti-Semitic environment on campus. That’s our bottom line.
Bravo to Tikvah!