Tikvah president faces recall from U.C. Berkeley senate

The fallout from an altercation between Jewish and pro-Palestinian students at U.C. Berkeley continues to evolve.

During a pro-Israel concert on campus Nov. 13, a fistfight between three students occurred after members of Students for Justice in Palestine draped a Palestinian flag from a balcony above the stage. The outdoor concert was part of Israel Liberation Week, sponsored by the Zionist Freedom Alliance, a student organization that operates on campuses throughout North America.

Now John Moghtader, the president of the pro-Israel group Tikvah: Students for Israel, is facing a recall vote intended to unseat him from U.C. Berkeley’s 20-member student senate.

The recall was spearheaded by five Boalt Hall School of Law students who believe Moghtader was involved in the fight. Moghtader said those students are affiliated with SJP.

The petition to unseat him alleges that Moghtader “has persistently acted in a way that silences those who espouse views different from his own and creates an atmosphere that undermines the physical safety of students.”

Moghtader was never charged by police and he denied being involved in the incident, even though the Daily Californian reported he was one of three Jewish students who attempted to remove the banner. The student newspaper initially reported online that Moghtader was handcuffed and cited for battery by U.C. police. An apology and correction were later issued.

Students who started the recall petition Dec. 2 reportedly needed fewer than 48 hours to surpass the 1,000 signatures necessary to hold a recall vote, which is planned for Jan. 26 and 27.

“This is a very rare thing,” said Tara Raffi, a senator in the campus government and the new president of the Jewish Student Union, the umbrella organization that oversees Jewish student groups and promotes Jewish culture on campus. She was elected Dec. 3.

Moghtader said he feels personally attacked.

“They’re going after me because I’m a proud, pro-Israel, Jewish senator,” he said. “This is revenge, not a recall.”

This week, he challenged the validity and constitutionally of the petition by submitting paperwork to the judicial council of the Associated Students of U.C. Berkeley.

“The petition circulating contains no specific reason for removal, and the ASUC constitution says that it has to state a specific reason for removal,” he said. “I’m confident the judicial council will rule in our favor.”

A decision is expected after school resumes Jan. 13.

And if that doesn’t happen, Raffi said, the vote “is going to be messy. I hope that John is able to prove to students that he wasn’t involved physically in the altercation.”

The campus Jewish community is torn on the issue. “There are certain students taking a stance, but I don’t think there will be a completely solidified Jewish voice,” Raffi said.

Raffi served as JSU’s vice president of outreach last year, so she takes over as president with a familiarity with the political and cultural climate on campus.

Dan Rosen, a senior and past president of JSU (his term expired last week), doesn’t expect a quick resolution of the issues. Tikvah, he said, is “pursuing an agenda that’s distinctly different from JSU’s vision.

“Unfortunately, I don’t think tensions were caused by Tikvah being or not being a part of JSU, but from these differing viewpoints and clashes in personality,” Rosen added. “Tikvah’s affiliation or disaffiliation is a symptom of underlying issues.”

Moghtader was first put on the hot seat after he and other Tikvah students led a disruptive protest at a lecture by author and anti-Zionist Norman Finkelstein on campus Oct. 15. Tikvah was consequently put on probation by the JSU, whose leaders said they could not tolerate Tikvah’s disruptive behavior.

“While we respect their message, we did not agree with the manner in which it was delivered,” Rosen said.

Moghtader and his Tikvah peers subsequently decided to secede from the JSU rather than work around the terms of the probation. “We decided our pro-Israel efforts would better serve the Jewish community if we could operate how we wanted to,” Moghtader said. “We wanted to avoid the petty politics of the JSU.”

Rosen and Raffi have planned a town-hall style meeting for early next semester for students to express their opinions about tensions on campus. A professional facilitator will moderate the discussion.

“It’s going to take a real effort to re-appeal to those who’ve disaffiliated [from JSU] in the aftermath of these events,” Rosen said. “That will be a large part of the job of the new president [Raffi].”

Stacey Palevsky

Stacey Palevsky is a former J. staff writer.