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The return of segregation to America in ‘Jew-free spaces’

Berkeley, once the proud home of free speech, is now the ignominious sponsor of the opposite

One would have thought that after the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, exclusion was a relic of the past. Yet, here we are. Exclusion — let’s be honest and call it what it is, segregation — is becoming the norm in certain areas. The twist: Instead of being presented as discriminatory, it is promoted as edifying.

Racially segregated social groups on college campuses are promoted as totally normal. These aren’t “appreciation” clubs, where anyone and everyone interested in a certain grouping is welcome to join.

Rather, the membership in these social groups is specifically designed to exclude —typically, anyone not a member of a specific minority.

Yes, a Jewish/black/Asian/fill-in-the-blank club should be led by and oriented toward the minority group in question. But the club should never exclude others. Exclusion — i.e., segregation — is antithetical to non-discrimination and prevents dialogue and mutual understanding.

Now . . . a new variant. Anyone who supports Zionism or the State of Israel is excluded. Reporting by J. (a Jewish weekly) and the Jewish Journal found that nine law student groups at the University of California Berkeley’s School of Law amended their bylaws to prohibit speakers who support “Zionism, the apartheid state of Israel, and the occupation of Palestine.”

All white country clubs exclude blacks. All pro-Palestinian law clubs exclude pro-Israel people — including . . . the dean of the Berkeley law school himself!

No less than the law school’s dean, Erwin Chemerinsky, noted that he himself, as a progressive Zionist, is now prevented from speaking to these nine groups under these new bylaws!

The furor has been instant and widespread.

Many quickly deduced that preventing Zionists or anyone who supports the existence of Israel from speaking is anti-Semitic. Even Barbra Streisand weighed in, tweeting: “When does anti-Zionism bleed into broad anti-Semitism?”

It’s a good question, because according to a 2020 Pew Research Center study on American Jews, about 80% of American Jews support Israel in some form. When 80% of Jews are excluded from anything, can it be interpreted as anything other than anti-Semitism?

Consider the irony: Law students, the future arbiters of justice in America, root their training in ignorance and hatred, not to mention the rejection of free speech. What kind of law school produces graduates who do not uphold the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States?

Consider a smaller yet particularly delicious irony: Berkeley was America’s fiercest advocate of . . . free speech. As in the “FSM,” an acronym that took only a week or two to acquire currency: the “Free Speech Movement” at Berkeley in 1964. Mario Savio, a proud leader of that movement, must be turning over in his grave learning of the depredation of free speech today at . . . Berkeley.

Supporters of this new bylaw say they are anti-Zionist, not anti-Semitic. Fine, take them at their word. This means that since the vast majority of American Jews, who define themselves as pro-Israel, are excluded by the Berkeley bylaw, the distinction between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism is distinction without a difference.

At its kindest reading, what does “anti-Zionism” mean? It means that the Jewish people — persecuted for millennia, denied their own political freedom and homeland for millennia — have no right to any homeland, and no right to their ancestral home in the Land of Israel. “Anti-Zionism” is anti-history. “Anti-Zionism” is invidious discrimination against one people — all other peoples deserve an independent homeland, but not the Jews. That’s the supposedly acceptable, “anti-Zionism.”

This supposed hate-free ideological position amounts to denying Jews the right to national security from the deadly violence to which Jews have been subject from time immemorial.

Try this: The law clubs at Berkeley forbid any speaker who supports Irish nationalism. That would de facto exclude nearly all Irish Catholics on the planet and would clearly have the affect of targeting a ethno-religious group.

The point is clear. Law clubs are supposed to widen debate, not narrow it. There’s a Freudian slip here in the Berkeley law clubs’ invocation of “apartheid” in reference to Israel. Really, the reference is to the law clubs themselves. They are the one who would bifurcate society into the mutually exclusive realms of the permitted and the excluded.

Maybe we chose the wrong metaphor. Maybe these clubs are engaged in psychological projection. What they claim to see in Israel is what they practice themselves: radical exclusion.

Even if it were so that Israel is guilty of all the sins that the Berkeley law clubs say it is, what is these clubs’ mode of progress? Hear no evil, see no evil. Only through debate and dialogue between opponents does empathy and progress become possible. The Berkeley modus operandi is just the opposite: Disinvite. Close down debate. Don’t listen. Assume omniscience.

Academia is supposed to deepen knowledge and understanding for the benefit of humankind. The Berkeley law club ban precludes knowledge and thus disgraces the basic tenet of academia.

Put the shoe on the other foot. If Israel were to bar Palestinian nationalists from speaking, Israel would be the apartheid state that the Berkeley bylaw change presumes — but Israel doesn’t do that.

It’s a sad reflection on our times that the following must be stated: Neither pro-Israel nor pro-Palestinian speakers should be barred from college campuses. Cogent criticism of what might be said? Of course. Bans, no.

Those who seek to brand Zionism as racism have done a full 180º. Now, it is the anti-Zionists who trade in racist tropes. The Berkeley ban promotes not peace but unending conflict.

Copyright © 2022 by the Intermountain Jewish News

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