UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ in 2017. (Courtesy UC Berkeley)
UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ in 2017. (Courtesy UC Berkeley)

UC Berkeley chancellor addresses controversial Bears for Palestine display

UC Berkeley’s Chancellor Carol Christ released two letters late Tuesday night in response to a student government resolution addressing a Palestinian display that some Jewish students say glorifies terrorists.

The nearly identical letters were written to both sides — those who opposed the resolution and those who supported it. Christ wrote that the display of Palestinian militants “who killed unarmed Jewish civilians… is an affront to our Principles of Community.” In the next sentence, she denounced an inflammatory comment made about Palestinians during a student government meeting.

The resolution in question, struck down on Feb. 10 by the ASUC External and University Affairs Committee in a 4-1 vote, called for condemning the Palestinian display, which includes photos of two women involved in deadly civilian bombings and hijackings.

The resolution was supposed to be decided at a Feb. 3 meeting that drew hundreds of students, but the vote was tabled after the discussion deteriorated into shouting and threats.

The chancellor’s letters this week spoke to the university’s values multiple times, and placed responsibility on both pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel students to be cognizant of them.

Christ made reference to a pro-Israel student who had announced at the Feb. 10 meeting that he planned to join the Israel Defense Forces after graduation to “eliminate Palestinian nationalism and Palestinians from the world.”

The comment was captured on video and drew strong condemnations from the External and University Affairs Committee and from the office of the president of the Associated Students of the University of California.

Since the vote, students have received death threats, according to UC Berkeley administrators. Some students have been “doxed,” which is when someone’s personal information, such as home address and phone number, is posted online as a form of intimidation.

A display at a Bears for Palestine space at UC Berkeley glorifies terrorists, according to pro-Israel students. (Shelby Weiss)
A display at a Bears for Palestine space at UC Berkeley glorifies terrorists, according to pro-Israel students. (Shelby Weiss)

“Any meeting or event on campus that leaves so many participants — regardless of their perspective and identity — feeling afraid, disregarded, and disrespected must, I believe, call into question not just the conduct of those involved, but also whether we can do more as a community to facilitate dialogue that adheres to the values described in our Principles of Community,” Christ wrote in both letters.

Jewish students shared their appreciation for Christ’s comments.

“I am glad that the Chancellor has thoughtfully acknowledged the concerns and pain of all communities involved in the events of recent weeks,” said Shelby Weiss, the only ASUC senator to vote yes on the resolution. “I appreciate that she strongly condemned the posters and look forward to working with her and others in the administration and ASUC to create safer and more productive spaces for discourse and dialogue around contentious and emotional issues such as these.”

The chancellor’s letters were more definitive in their language compared with previous comments she had made about the photo display. In a Feb. 4 statement sent to students and shared with J., Christ acknowledged that Jewish students have the right to “feel dismay and concern” over the photos. At the same time, she said that “each side has an equal right to express and have heard their perspective.”

This week’s letters also gave Christ an opportunity to address the university’s relationship with ASUC, an independent, self-funded nonprofit.

“While we must respect the ASUC’s legal independence and autonomy, I want to explore offering more resources to help the ASUC plan for ASUC meetings that involve controversial issues and deeply divided protagonists,” Christ wrote.

The display is located in the office of Bears for Palestine, a campus group that promotes Palestinian history and culture. It includes photos of Rasmea Odeh, convicted for her involvement in a 1969 bombing in Jerusalem that killed two college students, and Leila Khaled, involved in multiple plane hijackings, including a 1970 El Al flight.

The resolution was introduced by Jewish ASUC senator and Berkeley College Republicans member Milton Zerman.

An op-ed written for J. by Karen Stiller of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council expressed confidence in the university’s ability to deal with political controversies.

“There will likely be more flare-ups, but today there is a strong support network for Jewish students and a chancellor who has demonstrated true leadership,” the op-ed said.

The Anti-Defamation League said in a statement that while the photo display was protected by free speech, “others have the moral responsibility to denounce extremism and the celebration of violence.” The ADL statement also praised the chancellor’s “commitment to speak out and act against bigotry targeting any student group. “

Neither ASUC nor Bears for Palestine responded to a request for comment.

Gabriel Greschler

Gabriel Greschler was a staff writer at J. from 2019 to 2021.