UC Berkeley (Photo/file)
UC Berkeley (Photo/file)

BDS measure at Berkeley Law hurts students, not Israel

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The Jewish Student Association at Berkeley Law has long stayed away from the campus debate over BDS — the movement to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel. Taking a political stance does not align with our mission of providing an inclusive place for all Jewish students at Berkeley Law.

But when nine law student affinity groups unrelated to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict adopted a bylaw barring Zionists from speaking at their events, some Jewish students came to us saying they no longer felt welcome at those groups. Others went further and asked us to officially condemn BDS bylaws.

Some Jewish students at Berkeley, however, support the BDS movement, and they said they would feel ostracized by our affinity group should we officially denounce such actions.

The issue started when Law Students for Justice in Palestine asked other groups to adopt a pro-BDS provision in their respective charters. LSJP presented a stark choice: Are you pro-Palestine and anti-Israel? If so, adopt this measure.

They offered no room for discussion or for a dialogue on what it means to be a Zionist.

That some student groups felt it appropriate to take a stance on a fraught issue unrelated to the mission of their organization is concerning. But more saddening is how the resolution came to pass and the bylaw’s effect on the Jewish community at Berkeley Law.

The Jewish Student Association at Berkeley Law was one of the few student organizations not contacted by LSJP. Why? Maybe because we were expected to reject the bylaw. It is hard to imagine another reason for leaving the Jewish student affinity group out of the conversation. Yet, such a justification only reinforces the argument that the BDS movement is antisemitic.

RELATED: Dean of Berkeley Law: Don’t generalize about BDS on campus

Not only was the outreach process highly questionable, but the substance of the bylaw is antithetical to our school’s academic principles. UC Berkeley is “committed to ensuring freedom of expression and dialogue that elicits the full spectrum of views held by our varied communities.” In particular, our law school is driven by the acceptance and promotion of intellectual differences.

Yet at the urging of LSJP, some student affinity groups at Berkeley Law will now no longer hear from anyone who supports the State of Israel. Rather than inviting dialogue and education, LSJP has silenced a particular group of individuals: Zionists are forbidden from speaking on any topic with these affinity groups.

It is no secret that Israeli policy is little affected by the BDS movement. Instead, the consequences are felt by the Jewish students at Berkeley.

Here lies the sad but predictable outcome of the new bylaw: No matter our organization’s official stance, the Jewish students at Berkeley Law are left divided. If we publicly condemn the BDS movement and the bylaw, some Jewish students will feel we have strayed from our mission to be a welcoming space for all Jewish views. Or we can say nothing, and many other Jewish students will feel unsupported by their own Jewish community.

As a result of measures promulgated by LSJP and accepted by other student groups, the Jewish population at Berkeley is suffering — not the State of Israel. While we’ve tried to walk a precarious line and openly express our concerns by issuing this statement, a diversity of views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict means we cannot satisfy everyone. Unfortunately, there are likely Jewish students who no longer feel supported by our organization. This was never our intention, and for that, I am deeply sorry.

If I could do it over again, I would have asked LSJP to include the Jewish student group in the conversation. I would have encouraged other groups to seek out Jewish voices on campus. I would have engaged on an individual level in an open dialogue about Zionism and the BDS movement. I would have explained how it is possible for someone to harbor a deep sympathy for the Palestinian people, support the existence of the State of Israel and strongly criticize many of Israel’s policies all at the same time — it is possible to be a Zionist and condemn the actions of Israel.

But none of these opportunities existed because we were left out of the process. The Jewish students on campus are now paying the price.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of J.

Adam Pukier
Adam Pukier

Adam Pukier is a student at Berkeley Law and a board member of the Jewish Students Association at Berkeley Law.