Pro-Palestinian demonstrators block Sather Gate with a sign about Israel and the US committing genocide against Gaza during a “Liberate the Gate” protest against antisemitism at UC Berkeley on Monday, March 11, 2024. (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)
Pro-Palestinian demonstrators block Sather Gate with a sign about Israel and the US committing genocide against Gaza during a “Liberate the Gate” protest against antisemitism at UC Berkeley on Monday, March 11, 2024. (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)

UC Berkeley administrators falsely take credit for work to combat antisemitism

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

In J.’s March 13 interview with Carol Christ, UC Berkeley’s chancellor, and Dan Mogulof, assistant vice chancellor for communications, Mogulof once again hails Jewish initiatives on campus as proof that the university is taking action against antisemitism. But in doing so, he instead highlights the university’s failure to confront and address antisemitism — or to even support the initiatives he proudly touts.

In response to a question about the prevalence of antisemitism on campus, Mogulof said, “We didn’t launch the Antisemitism Education Initiative last November. We launched it five years ago because this is an institution that recognizes that challenge.”

But Mogulof is incorrect. The university administration did not launch the initiative. I did.

For seven years, I was head of the Chancellor’s Committee on Jewish Life at UC Berkeley. The Antisemitism Education Initiative was conceived by me and organized by me. I raised the funds for it from outside sources, including the Academic Engagement Network, and recruited professor Ethan Katz and Rabbi Adam Naftalin-Kelman, the executive director of Berkeley Hillel, to launch the initiative.

I have since resigned from all my universitywide positions on Jewish issues due to the failure of the administration to directly confront antisemitism and related issues adversely affecting Jews on campus, including Christ’s failure to act or condemn the 2022 anti-Zionist bylaw that effectively excludes Jewish students from a number of students groups at Berkeley Law, where I am a professor.

Katz and Naftalin-Kelman have been voluntarily running the initiative since I left.

I started the antisemitism initiative to address deep-rooted antisemitism issues in the administration and particularly in the Division of Equity and Inclusion and the Multicultural Community Center. As the events of the past few months show, this has not led to substantial reform.

During my time at UC Berkeley, I made repeated requests to the university to fund the antisemitism initiative, including direct requests to Christ, but all of these have been declined or unanswered. Instead and up to now, the funds raised for the initiative have all come from outside sources.

The failure of UC Berkeley to address antisemitism issues on campus — and which professor Ron Hassner has responded to by starting a sit-in protest on March 7 — was a general frustration of mine as head of the committee. The other main Jewish organizations on campus are all self-funded from outside sources, including Hillel, Chabad and the Helen Diller Institute for Jewish Law and Israel Studies.

The university administration did not launch the initiative. I did.

Meanwhile, the university spends at least $25 million a year on other minority and DEI initiatives while refusing to fund the Jewish initiatives that Mogulof touts. The main university centers on discrimination — the Othering and Belonging Institute and the Center for Race and Gender — have to my knowledge never done a single program on antisemitism despite hosting Islamophobia programs and despite antisemitism being the most frequent type of religious hate crime in America.

While I appreciate Mogulof’s dedicated service to the university as a public relations adviser and as a board member at Hillel, I would appreciate it if he stopped citing the Antisemitism Education Initiative and the other Jewish initiatives on campus as proof of the university’s good faith and willingness to combat antisemitism.

To the contrary, these are programs that the university does not — and in some cases has refused to — fund and support. And none of them has come from the university itself, but rather from a dedicated and small group of professors working voluntarily on behalf of the university community, including myself and professors Katz, Hassner, John Efron and Ken Bamberger.

In the interview, J. asked Christ: “Do you think that there’s a problem with antisemitism on campus at Berkeley?”

“That’s a hard question to answer,” she replied. “I think that there are problems with lots of different kinds of prejudices. On the Berkeley campus, I hear from Black students that they feel that they’re victims of prejudice. I hear from Muslim students that they feel they’re victims of prejudice. We live in a world in which there is a lot of prejudice and bigotry. Asian students often talk to me about the prejudice that they feel.”

I very much appreciate the chancellor’s work on this matter and for the university and I have many thoughts about why she appears to be minimizing what is going on at UC Berkeley. But for now, I think she would do well to look to Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín, who wrote in one of his recent weekly newsletters: “Since October 7, 50% of hate crimes and hate incidents [in Berkeley] were anti-Jewish and 3% were anti-Arab or anti-Muslim. Several of these incidents have taken place at Council meetings, which is causing harm to our democratic values. Hate has no place in Berkeley, and these statistics show that we must remain vigilant and do more to oppose creeping anti-semitism that is spreading globally.”

Arreguín’s condemnation reflects a 360% rise in antisemitic incidents in the United States in the three months following Oct. 7, compared with the same period a year earlier — a disturbing trend considering that anti-Jewish hate crimes already account for most religion-based hate crimes in the U.S., according to the FBI.

At UC Berkeley I have observed a similar rise in incidents as well as a continuation of the exclusion of Jewish students from many spaces. (Some but not all of these are documented in a Congressional letter to UC Berkeley issued today.)

I encourage community members to speak with Jewish students at UC Berkeley to learn about the atmosphere here and why there are now multiple pending federal Title VI cases against the university concerning antisemitism and anti-Jewish conduct.

Steven Davidoff Solomon
Steven Davidoff Solomon

Steven Davidoff Solomon has been the Alexander F. and May T. Morrison Professor of Law at the UC Berkeley School of Law since 2014.