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Visitor to UC Campus Denounces 'Vulgar' Behavior of Protesters

Henry Hart
Tuesday April 15, 2003

The following letter was sent to Chancellor Robert Berdahl in response to a protest held April 9 at UC Berkeley’s Sproul Plaza: 


Dear Chancellor Berdahl, 

I am an infrequent visitor to your lovely campus, but yesterday I felt that I really needed to come to the demonstration and commemoration in memory of the 1948 massacre of the village of Deir Yassin. I was proud to stand with the demonstrators, but utterly grieved and dismayed by the behavior of some of the counter-demonstrators, who are ostensibly UC Berkeley students. 

I support the right of counter-demonstrators to protest peacefully, and quite a few did. But there were several students whose behavior was reprehensible by any standard. 

They were disrupting the demonstration at every turn, as they circulated among the crowd chanting “free Palestine” loudly, dressed with suicide belts on their waists and misinforming slogans on their backs. They worked to convince the bystanders that the Palestinians are all terrorists. They couldn’t even let those assembled peacefully commemorate this incredibly dark day in the history of Palestine. Really, it would be like showing up at someone’s funeral and mocking the dead person. That is what they did gleefully. 

At one point, the assembled Deir Yassin demonstrators lay down on the plaza in a “die in” to symbolize the fallen villagers and, indeed, the hundreds of thousands of fallen Palestinians since 1948. These same disruptive students then walked through the fallen bodies, stepping on many of them. Utterly reprehensible and even evil behavior. At one point, a young man with a large Israeli flag thought to move into the “fallen” and plant his flag firmly among them. He was discouraged from this at the last minute by another counter-demonstrator — I must say, I almost wish he had done it. I had my camera at the ready. What a photograph it would have been. 

I left the demonstration after an hour or so, in disbelief and dismay. I thought to drown my sorrows with a latte at the well-known Cafe Strada across from the university’s Bancroft fountain entrance.  

I was just sitting there quietly, when to my further dismay a procession of these counter-demonstrators (including the most disruptive students) went proudly and jubilantly by. Where could they be going, I wondered. Intrigued, I decided to follow them discreetly. 

They marched up the hill to a very lavish and prominent building. Was it a university building? It turned out to be the Hillel House. Quite a nice clubhouse from which to operate, I thought. 

My question to you, Chancellor Berdahl, is this: What is the university’s relationship to Hillel? Do you provide funding to them? Do they rent the building or the land on which it sits from UC Berkeley?  

It is one thing to peacefully counter-demonstrate, but quite another to attempt to disrupt a peaceful Deir Yassin commemoration in the most vicious and vulgar way. Surely you, Chancellor, or your great university cannot sanction this kind of behavior. But is this what you are doing indirectly by your support of Hillel? I must ask you this. 

If you are concerned then, please, investigate and sanction these students personally. Contact the rabbis and other adults who run the Hillel House and let them know about these vicious and reprehensible acts by their young charges. 

Let’s see a respectful environment thrive here in the East Bay and especially at the university. 

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter. 

Henry Hart