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Palestine liberation is core to my Jewish beliefs

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OCTOBER 25, 2022

Why would nine Berkeley Law student groups pledge not to host speakers who promote Zionism? In solidarity with their Palestinian classmates, they chose to “provide a supportive community space for all indigenous peoples globally, including movements for Palestinian liberation.” 

Zionism as an ideology supports a Jewish nation state which privileges the rights of Jewish people over others. In practice, Zionism entails theft, displacement and brutal violence against Palestinians. 

Anti-Zionism is core to my Jewish values. I believe that I am not free until all people are free, especially Palestinians who are imprisoned, assassinated and bombed under a flag with the Star of David on it. 

Jewish people must be safe in every country we live in. No religious or ethnic group — not Jewish people in Israel, not Hindus in India, or Muslims in Saudi Arabia or Christians in the United States — has a right to a state of their own, with everyone else relegated to second-class status. 

When I learned about the pledge not to host speakers promoting Zionism, I was excited to see students choose solidarity. Yes, the Queer Caucus and the Womxn of Color Collective should practice progressive values of justice for all — with no exception for Palestinians living under occupation and apartheid.

I would similarly applaud these groups for refusing to host speakers who oppose marriage equality or support abortion bans. This does not make me anti-Christian, even if these speakers describe their views as core to their Christian identity. 

And by the way, Hillel also refuses to host speakers whose views on Palestine contradict the organization’s political position. Since 2012, Hillel has maintained a bylaw prohibiting speakers who support Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions for Palestinian rights. Is anyone condemning Hillel for this? 

Earlier this month, a former Trump appointee manufactured a crisis with an op-ed that claimed there were “Jewish-free zones” at UC Berkeley. This is a patently false picture of what is happening on campus. But the fake news traveled and a harassment campaign ensued, targeting the students who are Palestinian, Black, Muslim, Queer, Asian, women of color and Jewish allies.

Zionist groups called for punishing students. They tried to name and shame law firms on Twitter who provide financial support to the affinity groups and demanded they stop giving money. Pro-Israel attorneys argued the students should be blocked from receiving their licenses to practice law. Students were profiled on blacklisting websites, and their inboxes were filled with hate messages. A truck drove around town comparing Berkeley Law students to Hitler. The driver parked outside the law school and hurled epithets at visibly Muslim students. 

Administrators have not condemned the harassment campaign. Instead, Berkeley Law Dean and Chancellor Christ both repeated the suggestion that UC Berkeley student groups are discriminating people based on their Jewish identity.

But this is not just about UC Berkeley. There is a larger agenda to censor Palestine advocacy by falsely equating anti-Zionism with antisemitism. Zionist groups are using the UC Berkeley campus as a spectacle to generate media in order to pressure the U.S. Department of Education to define criticism of Israel as antisemitic. This is a legal strategy to justify censorship, akin to right-wing attempts to ban teaching about racism.

Zionist organizations are blunt about their strategy: file meritless lawsuits aiming to achieve embarrassing headlines that chill information and debate about Israel on campus. 

Zionist groups routinely launch pressure campaigns loaded with disingenuous accusations of antisemitism demanding universities censor speech on campus. In response, universities have sanctioned students, fired professors, canceled events, suspended courses and brought in FBI interrogators — all because of complaints about speech advocating for Palestinian liberation. 

This widespread repression is designed to silence solidarity with Palestine. 

To Jewish people who feel excluded by the practice of solidarity: I urge you to sit with your discomfort, listen to Palestinians and question your political ideology. That’s what college is for. I do this as an alumnus, a mother, a descendant of Jewish refugees from Europe now living on Ohlone land and as an American taxpayer funding Israeli violence and displacement of Palestinians. Acknowledging our complicity in systems of violence is very upsetting, but it’s not something to censor. 

To UC Berkeley administrators: You may be concerned about the well-being of students who believe Zionism is core to their Jewish identities, but the solution is not to censor or smear Palestinians and their allies. We expect you to stand up against racism of all kinds and to support students organizing across communities against colonial ideologies like Zionism. 

Antisemitism is real and growing, and we all have a role in actively dismantling it. We know that the safety of all of our communities depends not on censorship or militarized nationalism, but on coming together across marginalized communities to fight collectively against the biggest threat to all of us — white nationalism and white supremacy. 

Liz Jackson is an attorney at Palestine Legal and graduated from Berkeley Law in 2011. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected]

NOVEMBER 07, 2022