Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Action Alert: Oppose Hate Crimes at UC Berkeley

Statement from the Arab-American and Muslim Community of the San Francisco Bay Area on Hate Crimes at UC Berkeley

On Thursday November 13th, 2008, three Palestinian students were attacked near a Zionist supremacist concert labeled "Israeli Liberation Week" at the University of California , Berkeley . Two young Palestinian-American women and one man, all students, entered a building near the event, and unfurled two Palestinian flags off of a balcony overlooking the concert. Shortly after they displayed the flags, members of the right-wing supremacist groups Tikvah and the Zionist Freedom Alliance (ZFA) entered the building, climbed the stairs to the second floor, isolated the Palestinian students on the balcony, and then proceeded to assault them. Witnesses identified the assailants as three members of the Zionist Freedom Alliance, including one current student, one alumnus, and one performer for the ZFA event.

During the attacks, anti-Arab racial epithets were used repeatedly. Despite numerous accounts indicating that the students were attacked by outside members, the police and administration treated the assaulted students as suspects. The incompetence of the UC Berkeley administration and severe mishandling of the situation by the police department further exacerbated the hate crime, which took place on the heels of the 60th anniversary of Zionism's displacement of the Palestinian people. Though it was the responsibility of the university to protect its students from hate crimes, protect the freedom of speech of its members, and to work diligently against an atmosphere of hate and supremacy, the university failed these tasks, and did not take precautions to protect the attacked students. Instead, in a statement to the campus community, it drew parity between the segregator and the segregated, the attackers and the attacked.

Rather than counteract rising anti-Arab sentiment in the United States and on UC campuses, the administration has either exacerbated those sentiments or stood idly by, its role proving to be an abomination in this matter. It has taken no significant steps to protect the rest of the Arab and Palestinian student population, or to apprehend or restrain the attackers. Moreover, Palestinian students have been questioned as if they were suspects in the matter, and members of the administration have told them that they "should have known better" than to exercise their free speech rights by holding a flag. Worse, the Chancellor's letter to the campus community took five days to reach the student body, and it barely addressed the incidents, providing no support for the attacked students' rights to freely challenge hate speech, or to attend campus without fear of being victimized by hate crime, let alone their rights to be safe from physical attack on campus. The administration's failure to learn from decades of racist history is astounding, and yet these are the educators of the next generation.

The Palestinian people have just commemorated 60 years of forceful displacement. In 1948 two-thirds of the indigenous population was forced out at gunpoint during the military occupation of Palestine and the subsequent establishment of the State of Israel. Palestinians were denied reentry and labeled as an indigenous and demographic threat to the colonial and ethnic supremacist nature of the State of Israel. Over 500 villages and towns were erased and many massacres were committed by the then Zionist militias of the Haganah and the Irgun and later the Israeli army. In a speech given June 15, 1969 former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Maier said, "There was no such thing as Palestinians, they never existed." Menahim Begin, another former prime minister said, "[The Palestinians are] beasts walking on two legs." Israeli prime minister in 1988 Yitzhak Shamir said, "The Palestinians would be crushed like grasshoppers ... heads smashed against the boulders and walls." Unfortunately, as this incident shows, Zionist hatred and violence has followed Palestinians to wherever they live in the world.

Universities are supposed to be places of intellectual engagement; places where opposing opinions, views, rationalizations and justifications may be voiced without fear of censorship, intimidation, or threat of violence. Cal 's most important marketing gimmick is its history of the free speech movement; it is the "free speech campus," after all. It is the place where Mario Savio stood up and rallied students to empower themselves and one another by raising their voices in declaration of their right to express their views. But let us remember that these events during Savio's time were the result of censorship by the administration, not a spontaneous enlightenment that drove students to begin suddenly expressing their opinions. Today, it is the university's implicit support of war policies and tacit nod and wink to hate speech that is resulting in a climate of fear and intimidation. The educational administrators of our youth seem to have internalized little from the free speech, anti-war and civil rights movements. They think that appointing a token person of color for a clerk's position can hide racist policies that have led to a decline in the admission of students of color to the University, just as naming some stairs after Mario Savio succeeds in placating the oppressed into silence, allowing hate-based violence to be viewed as commonplace.

We ask every responsible person in our community not to allow the defenders of apartheid in Israel , advocates for genocide and displacement, to drive fear into the hearts of our youth. On behalf of the communities and organizations signing this letter, we commend the Palestinian students for their courage and call for:

The campus community to rise to this historical moment, at a time when the US elects an African-American president, racial attacks against Arabs and Palestinians should not continue or go unchallenged. We urge all students to unite behind the statement:


The Berkeley DA to act on witness reports and prosecute the attackers for hate crimes.

The campus and Berkeley police to immediately apprehend the attackers and execute its responsibility to protect women, Arab and Palestinian students from hate attacks.

Chancellor Robert Birgeneau and Vice Chancellor Harry LeGrande to issue an apology to the Arab community for not recognizing the attack as a hate crime rather than a dispute caused by differing opinions.

The UC administration to execute immediate and swift corrective actions so that the university security forces handle advocacy for supremacist speech and defense of racial segregation by exile or other violent means as a potential threat to the community at large.

Please FAX the chancellor or write per the address below to voice our collective demands. Faxing is more effective than email.

Please call the Berkeley District Attorney and ask for the office to investigate the racial attacks and press hate crime charges against the ZFA and Tikvah assailants.

Office of the Chancellor
200 California Hall # 1500
University of California
Berkeley, CA 94720-1500
Phone (510) 642-7464
Fax (510) 643-5499

Berkeley District Attorney
2120 Martin Luther King Jr Way, Berkeley, CA 94704
(510) 644-6683


SJP-Students for Justice in Palestine , UC Berkeley

Al-Awda, Palestine Right to Return Coalition
American Muslims for Palestine
ANSWER-Act Now to Stop War and End Racism-Coalition
Arab American Legal Services
Arab American Union Members Council
Arab Cultural and Community Center of San Francisco
Arab Resource and Organizing Center
Break the Silence Mural Project
General Union of Palestine Students, San Francisco
NCA-National Council of Arab Americans
Palestine Solidarity Group (PSG)-Chicago
Palestine Youth Network
Palestinian American Women's Association (PAWA)
SJP-Students for Justice in Palestine-University of Illinois at Chicago
Taller Tupac Amaru
The Middle East Children's Alliance (MECA)
Xinaxtli , La Mexa de UCB