Chanting and waving signs, condemning the visit of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, demonstrators broke through police lines Tuesday evening and prevented lecturegoers from entering the high school gates, the entrance to the theater where Netanyahu was to speak.
Just before 8 p.m., when the lecture was to begin, organizers canceled the event.
Police made no attempt to arrest protesters, whose numbers swelled beyond 500 people. They lined up shoulder to shoulder inside the gates with billy clubs ready by their waists and protesters lined up outside the gate, blocking entry to the 100 or so people who had tickets to the lecture series.
Before the throng broke through the yellow police tape blocking off the intersection of Milvia and Kittedge streets, Palestinian Hatem Bazian, a lecturer at UC Berkeley, addressed the crowd through a bull horn: “Palestinians are not allowed to buy land or rent apartments in land occupied or controlled by the Israelis in the so-called only democracy in the Middle East,” he said. “Territory in the Gaza Strip is occupied by settlers who are the most racist and fascist people on the face of the earth.”
As prime minister and leader of the Likud Party, Netanyahu has supported these settlements.
At about 7:30 p.m., some of the audience members, who had been standing patiently in line, hoping to go through the gates blocked by protesters, turned around an headed for their cars.
“You get up to the front (of the crowd) and it’s very scary,” said one well-dressed woman, who was leaving the area.
Another would-be audience member, Steve Wolan said he was a veteran of Berkeley’s Free Speech Movement. Although he said he was not a Netanyahu supporter, he condemned the demonstrators for not allowing people the right to hear what he had to say.
“It’s a little ironic. This is the cradle of free speech.”
Councilmember Dona Spring was among the demonstrators. Noting the large police presence, Spring said she was outraged that the organizers of the lecture series had brought such an “inflammatory” figure to town.
“This is an outrageous use of taxpayer money,” she said, referring to an estimated $15,000 in police overtime that the event would cost.
At about 8 p.m., an announcement went out that the event had been canceled and a cheer rang out from the demonstrators, who organized themselves into a march. Chanting “no justice no peace,” the crowd, which had diminished to about 300 people, made a quick tour around downtown.
“The protest was a success,” said Bazian before he headed for home. “Once again, Berkeley leads the way. It did in the Free Speech Movement and in the anti-apartheid movement. It stands up for its ideals.”