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UC chancellor calls for safe environment, civil discussion

By Jia-Rui Chong Daily Planet staff
Tuesday April 09, 2002

In response to vandalism at the Jewish student center and attacks on Jewish community members during the last two weeks, UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert M. Berdahl called for a civil discourse and a safe environment for discussion at the university on Monday morning.  

Berdahl’s press conference was timed in anticipation of the Holocaust commemoration by Jewish students that began Monday night and a rally for Palestinian rights scheduled for noon today. While the Middle East has always been a contentious political issue for Berkeleyans, the recent escalation of violence in the Middle East has also heated up parties on both sides of the issue here. 

“We do not expect everyone to think alike. We expect people to disagree. We expect people to express their differences forcefully. While we cannot prevent people from saying ugly and hurtful things, hateful statements, whether anti-Jewish or anti-Arab, are reprehensible,” Berdahl said. 

Berdahl added that the university would not tolerate any action that threatens anyone’s physical well-being. Acts of violence, vandalism and personal attacks will be treated as criminal actions. 

“It is our responsibility to protect the rights of all members of the campus community to pursue their reason for being here – the work of teaching, learning and research – uninterrupted by anyone,” he said. 

Adam Weisberg, executive director of Berkeley Hillel, which was vandalized on March 27, was glad the chancellor supported Jewish students on campus and said Berdahl has always taken a stance against hate crimes. 

“I think he has made it clear that he is deeply committed to seeing a university community where painful, divisive issues can be handled in as responsible and peaceful way as possible,” Weisberg said. 

Weisberg said that the recent rise in antisemitism has generally created a greater sense of concern among Jewish students at Berkeley, but they do not plan to change their yearly Holocaust commemoration. 

“I think recent events make it more personal, but this program is a very upsetting program for most people generally. It’s the closest they can get to the terrible thing that happened to so many people 50 years ago,” he said. 

Ronen Gradwohl, a 20-year-old Cal student, said he wasn’t worried about his personal safety, but was worried about attacks on the Jewish community.  

“Antisemitism and anti-Israel protests often get mixed together. I have no problem with anti-Israel protests because what Israel is doing is a two-sided issue. But antisemitism is different and not acceptable,” Gradwohl said. 

But Palestinian activists felt that Berdahl’s response to antisemitism was incomplete. 

“While I respect the chancellor’s call for discussion and openness, I find it surprising that he didn’t admonish students who have been connecting Students for Justice in Palestine to terrorism and antisemitism. I think he missed an opportunity to set the record straight,” said Snehal Shingavi of SJP. 

He said that the SJP had been slandered by students quoted by KRON TV and the San Francisco Chronicle. 

“Students for Justice in Palestine have repeatedly condemned antisemitism and violence, but the first finger pointed is always at a group that advocates for human rights in Palestine,” he said. 

Shingavi said that his group plans to proceed with their noontime rally at Sproul Plaza as part of a National Campus Day of Action for Palestinian Rights. 

“Berdahl’s statement doesn’t really affect us. We’re going to have a demonstration for Palestinian rights. We have no intention of escalating the tension. We just want the right for our voices to be heard,” Shingavi said.