Former UC Berkeley student senator Milton Zerman. (Courtesy Milton Zerman)
Former UC Berkeley student senator Milton Zerman. (Courtesy Milton Zerman)

Jewish UC Berkeley student senator resigns after resolution against Bears for Palestine display fails

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Updated July 24, 2023

Jewish UC Berkeley student senator Milton Zerman resigned Wednesday night in protest after a resolution he introduced to condemn a controversial Palestinian photo display was voted down.

In a letter, Zerman said the decision “alienated a vast majority” of Jewish students, “drained the legitimacy and moral authority” of the student government and revealed a culture of anti-Semitism at the university.

“It was the right decision” to resign, Zerman wrote in a text message to J. “It took a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get elected to UC Berkeley’s student government as an openly Zionist Jewish student. But it’s come to a point where the ASUC is no longer an institution I can affiliate myself with in good conscience.”

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

The photos are displayed in the shared office space of Bears for Palestine, a campus group that promotes Palestinian history and culture.

In his resignation letter, which was shared with other members of the student senate, Zerman said he will now refocus his efforts on helping more Jews and moderates get elected to the Associated Students of the University of California.

Zerman, a member of the Berkeley College Republicans and Tikvah: Students for Israel, has himself been a source of controversy. At a Feb. 3 vote for his resolution, which was later tabled after the meeting devolved into chaos, Zerman used the word “godless” to describe the Bears of Palestine. “The Popular Front terrorist group is not Muslim; it was a secular group, and so are the Bears of Palestine,” he said, according to the Daily Californian.

Big turnout at a Feb. 3 UC Berkeley student union meeting where pro-Israel and anti-Israel student groups debated a measure to remove a controversial Bears for Palestine display. (Twitter/StandWithUs)
Big turnout at a Feb. 3 UC Berkeley student union meeting where pro-Israel and anti-Israel student groups debated a measure to remove a controversial Bears for Palestine display. (Twitter/StandWithUs)

Some Jewish students opposed the resolution. In an interview with J., Jewish student Josh Burg contended that a number of Jewish Berkeley students supported the pro-Palestinian Bears for Palestine, and described the assertion that Jewish students felt alienated by the vote as “ridiculous.” He also pushed back on Zerman’s claim that UC Berkeley is anti-Semitic. “Jewish life on this campus is thriving in many ways,” he said.

On Tuesday night, Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ responded more fully to the turmoil, issuing two nearly identical letters 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 by a pro-Israel student during one of ASUC’s meetings.

UPDATED: Corrections were made to this story on July 24, 2023, to remove unsubstantiated claims by a secondary source in the original article, after the claims were brought to J.’s attention. 

Gabriel Greschler

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