Cleanse U.C. Berkeley of all intimidation

Editor’s note: This column was written in response to a Nov. 21 local voice that was co-written by two Tikvah board members.

To describe the programming put on by the U.C. Berkeley student group, Tikvah: Students for Israel, John Moghtader and Elodie Res-seguie used the word “innovative” in an op-ed piece titled “Tikvah: victim of double standard at U.C.”

Frankly, the only true innovations that Tikvah’s leaders have brought to the U.C. Berkeley campus have been a divisive and destructive environment for the Jewish community and campus at large, and their perverse conceptions of the meaning of Zionism.

As active members of the Jewish and pro-Israel communities at U.C. Berkeley, we have witnessed verbal intimidation by members of Tikvah in an attempt to drown out the voices of moderation, compromise and reason within Berkeley Hillel and the Jewish Student Union. The authors deny ever being affiliated with the JSU or Hillel, but the truth is that Tikvah was barred due to the hostile atmosphere created by its leadership.

Select Jewish members who have dared to express

concern about and plan programs relating to Israeli policies — controversial issues such as settlements and Israeli-Arab relations that are debated daily within Israel itself — have been repeatedly berated by Tikvah’s leadership as “haters,” “self-hating Jews,” “anti-Semites” and not “true Zionists.”

Students subjected to this treatment include members of the student group Kesher Enoshi: Progressives for Activism in Israel, whose support of grass-roots activism aimed at social change in Israel apparently does not meet the standard of acceptable Israeli advocacy created by Tikvah’s leadership.

Tikvah’s executive members also denounced the leadership of the Israel Action Committee, a group associated with the JSU and Hillel, as “irresponsible” for hosting a “disgusting” event in November. The event was a discussion with activists from the OneVoice Movement, an international organization that aims to foster understanding and cooperative dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians while mobilizing support for a two-state solution as a peaceful and just end to the conflict.

Tikvah’s questionable conduct also includes actions taken on campus, most notably incidents that involved the Students for Justice in Palestine. During an SJP-sponsored lecture by Norman Finkelstein, the response from Tikvah was far from peaceful: The participants in the protest resorted to loudly disrupting the event with an air horn and yelling expletives and profanities at the speakers.

Though the actions were not technically illegal, such conduct was immature, counterproductive and reflected negatively upon the Jewish community. The actions to which the organization stooped went against the central foundational tenets of this university — namely the value of an open exchange of ideas, which includes the right to debate opposing views in an intellectual and constructive manner.

It should also be noted that Tikvah leadership turned down an opportunity to meet with Jewish community members, campus administration and members of SJP and create a normalized code of group conduct that would establish mutual respect and civility and protect free-speech rights during programming by both Israel and Palestinian groups.

The negative campus environment has also been a result of what Moghtader and Resseguie termed Tikvah’s “positive, pro-Israel programming on campus” — most notably, the Zionist Freedom Alliance’s Israel Liberation Week, an event from Nov. 10 to 13 for which the authors claim Tikvah was a sponsor. The ZFA and its spokesperson, Yehuda Hakohen, claim that proper support for Israel includes advancing a revolutionary mission for liberation of Judea and Samaria, as well as complete delegitimization of the Palestinian narrative.

Gabe Weiner, a Tikvah and ZFA representative, perhaps best revealed the group’s true intentions when he announced that the mere presence of a Palestinian flag “was an abomination to our national rights,” as quoted in the Daily Cal.

In this radical and blatantly racist quote, which erases an entire people’s history, Weiner inexplicably purports to speak for entire the Jewish community while sending a powerful message that Palestinian students are not welcome on the U.C. Berkeley campus — a message that Tikvah executives have backed up during repeated harassment and provocation of SJP members.

To be sure, reprehensible harassment and confrontation instigated by SJP has occurred in the past at Berkeley, but Tikvah’s actions, which claim to defend Jews — and these members may very well believe it — have exacerbated campus tensions, rather than ameliorating them.

We believe that this organization certainly has not allowed Jews, or any other students, for that matter, to “walk with pride across Sproul Plaza,” as their op-ed stated. Instead, there has been a raised level of concern for the safety of students on this campus.

The authors are correct that donors to this university should demand change. At the end of the day, U.C. Berkeley should be a safe environment where constructive discussion can occur and where students can proceed with their learning without facing ideological intimidation, harassment and attempts to drown out dissenting views — be it by SJP, Tikvah or any other group.

Gary Yevelev is a second-year student at U.C. Berkeley and serves as the government affairs portfolio for the Israel Action Committee at Cal.

Edward Yevelev is a second-year student at U.C. Berkeley and serves as secretary and outreach chairman for the Israel Action Committee at Cal.