Berkeley City Councilmember Cheryl Davila speaking at a press conference about homelessness in Berkeley, Dec. 2016 (Screenshot/YouTube)
Berkeley City Councilmember Cheryl Davila speaking at a press conference about homelessness in Berkeley, Dec. 2016 (Screenshot/YouTube)

Berkeley rabbis object to Bazian as standby for city council’s Davila

Three Berkeley rabbis are among the Jewish community members objecting to the nomination of UC Berkeley lecturer Hatem Bazian, the founder of American Muslims for Palestine, to be a standby officer for City Council Member Cheryl Davila.

Bazian also is a co-founder of Berkeley-based Zaytuna College, the first accredited Muslim undergraduate college in the U.S. He was nominated for the post by Davila earlier this year and his appointment was approved by city officials after a background check, but the city council has put off a vote on his nomination until at least September.

Hatem Bazian
Hatem Bazian

Bazian was criticized by the UC Berkeley administration last year for retweeting a pair of cartoons the school determined had “crossed the line” into anti-Semitism. Bazian apologized and deleted the images.

Standby officers are selected to serve temporarily during an emergency or disaster if an elected official has been killed or seriously injured, or is missing. Their only qualifications are that they have not been convicted of bribery, malfeasance in office or have a financial conflict of interest.

Bazian’s appointment drew both opposition and support from speakers at a city council meeting on July 24, and the mayor’s office received 46 letters or emails about the nomination — including one from three local rabbis.

Rabbis Yoel Kahn of Congregation Beth El, Chai Levy of Congregation Netivot Shalom and Yonatan Cohen of Congregation Beth Israel said in the letter to Mayor Jesse Arreguin that they oppose Bazian’s appointment.

“Prof. Bazian has a history of encouraging and personally engaging in speech which is offensive, uncivil and encourages demonization of others, including many citizens of Berkeley,” the letter said.

One of the cartoons retweeted by Bazian last July showed a Jewish man raising his arms in celebration above the caption: “I can now kill, rape, smuggle organs & steal the land of Palestinians.” The other showed North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, wearing a kippah, saying he had just converted his nation to Judaism: “Donald Tlump: Now my nukes are legal & I can annex South Korea & you need to start paying me 34 billion a year in welfare.”

Bazian said in an email to the J. at the time that he was not careful enough in reading the text in the Kim Jong-Un cartoon and that “as a Palestinian, my issue is with Zionism … and not with Judaism or Jews.”

At the July 24 meeting, Davila accused fellow council members of holding up final approval of Bazian’s appointment because “he happens to be Palestinian.”

Davila is a vocal proponent of the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. Bazian wrote a letter in Davila’s defense in 2015 when she was removed for six months from Berkeley’s Human Welfare and Community Action Commission because she was pushing an Israel divestment proposal.

All members of the council, except Davila, voted July 24 to delay consideration of Bazian’s appointment until a September meeting.

Rob Gloster

Rob Gloster z"l was J.'s senior writer from 2016-2019.