Paul L. Caron

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Anti-Israel Agitators Derail Dinner At Home Of UC Berkeley Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky

Washington Free Beacon, Anti-Israel Agitators Derail Dinner at Home of UC Berkeley Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky:

Anti-Israel hecklers crashed a Tuesday dinner that U.C. Berkeley’s Jewish law school dean hosted for graduating students, days after activists circulated a blood libel cartoon targeting the dean and referencing the planned dinner.

Malak Afaneh, the head of Berkeley Law Students for Justice in Palestine, stood in the midst of the backyard dinner hosted by law school dean Erwin Chemerinsky and his wife while roughly 60 law students were eating. Wearing a keffiyeh and hijab, she delivered an anti-Israel speech through a microphone, according to a Wednesday statement from Chemerinsky and an Instagram video from the Bay Area Palestinian Youth Movement that depicted the disruption.

"Please leave our house, you are guests in our house," Chemerinsky can be heard saying, as his wife put her arm around Afaneh. Afaneh refused to budge, stating with her eyes half-closed that "we have attorneys" and that the disruption at the private home was their "First Amendment right." Ultimately Afaneh left with about 10 other students who had accompanied her.

The disruption came a week after the law school’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine posted a cartoon on Instagram showing Chemerinsky holding a fork and knife dripping with blood over the dinner, captioned with "No Dinner With Zionist Chem While Gaza Starves."

Chemerinsky IG

This post was deleted soon after it was posted last Monday, then shared again without blood on the utensils. Posters with the image were also distributed on bulletin boards around the law school.

Activists distributed these graphics after Chemerinsky announced three consecutive nights of dinners—starting Tuesday—for graduating law students who, because they had entered Berkeley during the COVID-19 lockdowns, had missed out on his usual tradition of inviting all first-year law students into his home.

Statement from Dean Erwin Chemerinsky:

April 10, 2024
I write this with profound sadness. Since I became a dean, my wife and I have invited the first-year students to our home for dinner. We were asked this year by the presidents of the third year class to have the graduating students over for dinner because they began in Fall 2021 when COVID prevented us from having dinners for them. We were delighted to oblige and designated three nights — April 9, 10, 11 — that graduating students could choose among. I never imagined that something that we do to help our community would become ugly and divisive.

Last week, there was an awful poster, on social media and bulletin boards in the law school building, of a caricature of me holding a bloody knife and fork, with the words in large letters, “No dinner with Zionist Chem while Gaza starves.” I never thought I would see such blatant antisemitism, with an image that invokes the horrible antisemitic trope of blood libel and that attacks me for no apparent reason other than I am Jewish. Although many complained to me about the posters and how it deeply offended them, I felt that though deeply offensive, they were speech protected by the First Amendment. But I was upset that those in our community had to see this disturbing, antisemitic poster around the law school.

The students responsible for this had the leaders of our student government tell me that if we did not cancel the dinners, they would protest at them. I was sad to hear this, but made clear that we would not be intimidated and that the dinners would go forward for those who wanted to attend. I said that I assumed that any protest would not be disruptive.

On April 9, about 60 students came to our home for the dinner. All had registered in advance. All came into our backyard and were seated at tables for dinner. While guests were eating, a woman stood up with a microphone, stood on the top step in the yard, and began a speech, including about the plight of the Palestinians. My wife and I immediately approached her and asked her to stop and leave. The woman continued. When she continued, there was an attempt to take away her microphone. Repeatedly, we said to her that you are a guest in our home, please stop and leave. About 10 students were clearly with her and ultimately left as a group.

The dinner, which was meant to celebrate graduating students, was obviously disrupted and disturbed. I am enormously sad that we have students who are so rude as to come into my home, in my backyard, and use this social occasion for their political agenda.

The dinners will go forward on Wednesday and Thursday. I hope that there will be no disruptions; my home is not a forum for free speech. But we will have security present. Any student who disrupts will be reported to student conduct and a violation of the student conduct code is reported to the Bar.

I have spent my career staunchly defending freedom of speech. I have spent my years as dean trying hard to create a warm, inclusive community. I am deeply saddened by these events and take solace that it is just a small number of our students who would behave in such a clearly inappropriate manner.

Dean and Jesse H. Choper Distinguished Professor of Law
University of California, Berkeley School of Law

Jonathan Turley (George Washington; Google Scholar), Berkeley Students Disrupt Dinner at Law Dean’s Home; Accuse Law Professor of Assault:

The problem is that these students have been told for years that deplatforming and disrupting events are forms of free speech. This has been an issue of contention with some academics who believe that free speech includes the right to silence others.  Student newspapers have declared opposing speech to be outside of the protections of free speech.  Academics and deans have said that there is no free speech protection for offensive or “disingenuous” speech.  CUNY Law Dean Mary Lu Bilek showed how far this trend has gone. When conservative law professor Josh Blackman was stopped from speaking about “the importance of free speech,”  Bilek insisted that disrupting the speech on free speech was free speech. (Bilek later cancelled herself and resigned after she made a single analogy to acting like a “slaveholder” as a self-criticism for failing to achieve equity and reparations for black faculty and students).

Berkeley has lost cases in court over its failure to protect free speech.

Many faculty and deans remained quiet for years as conservatives, libertarians, and dissenters were cancelled on campus or deplatformed. It is only recently that some have become openly alarmed over the anti-free speech movement that they have fostered either directly or through their silence.

In this case, the students felt justified to stop a dinner event in a private home. They also showed little fear that they would face any repercussions for their actions. ...

For many of us, the lack of civility and respect by the students is disturbing but hardly surprising. There are many students who feel enabled for years by administrators and faculty at schools like Berkeley. ...

Clearly, neither Chemerinsky nor Professor Fisk deserved this disruption or the lack of respect. They refused to yield to the threats over this dinner and I respect them for that. Chemerinsky has tried to navigate the tensions on campus while supporting free speech rights. Chemerinsky and Fisk open their home to hold these dinners and most students clearly value and respect their gracious hospitality.

I also would not fault the Dean for declining to pursue discipline over the incident since this occurred in a private residence. However, I take a harsher view of disruptions of classes and public events. The protesters can demonstrate outside of a room or a hall to express their opposition to a speaker. What they cannot do is prevent others from speaking or hearing opposing views. Those responsible for such disruptions should be suspended or, for repeat offenders, expelled. ...

We now have a culture of disruption that has been consistently fostered by academics and administrators on our campuses. When asked “why the home of a dean?,” these students would likely shrug and answer “why not?”

In that sense, this is the ultimate example of the chickens literally coming home to roost. These students have been enabled for years into believing that such acts of disruption are commendable and that others must yield in the cancellation of events. For weeks, they demanded that these dinners be halted despite other students wanting to attend. In that sense, the appearance in an actual home is alarming, but hardly unexpected in our current environment.

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