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Pro-Palestinian activists violently protest Israel advocacy event on Berkeley campus

Pro-Palestinian activists disrupting Israel advocacy event at University of California at Berkeley (Photo: Screenshot)

Violent riots erupted on Monday night on the University of California – Berkeley campus when attorney Ran Bar-Yoshafat, the deputy director of the Kohelet Policy Forum, spoke to students about advocating on behalf of Israel amid the ongoing war in Gaza.

Dozens of pro-Palestinian activists heard about the event, “Israel at War: Combat the Lies,” and gathered outside the Zellerbach Playhouse to try and prevent students from entering the hall and disrupting Bar-Yoshafat from speaking. The activists shouted, "Global Intifada," spit on the students, banged on the doors and broke windows, which then resulted in physical confrontations.

"They grabbed me by the neck and pushed me against the wall. A student shouted at me 'dirty Jewess' and spat at me. It was pure antisemitism," one Jewish student said.

An Israeli student said that chants of "global intifada" could be heard across the campus and said, "I'm just scared to death to be an Israeli or Jewish student at Berkeley now."

Protesters held up signs that read, “Stop the genocide,” while chanting, “Long live the intifada.” 

Police forces were called to the scene and estimated there were between 100 and 250 protesters throughout the evening.

The Berkeley Hillel Jewish Student Center asked students who felt distressed after the event to reach out for emotional support. 

"We are saddened and horrified that an event with Israeli speaker Ron Bar-Yoshafat was shut down by protesters on the evening of February 26, 2024, at Zellerbach Playhouse. Breaking windows, intimidating students, and inciting a mob are never acceptable and have no place in civil discourse. We are proud of the students who organized the event and remained steadfast in the face of bullying and intimidation of Jewish and Israeli students. Berkeley Hillel remains committed every day to supporting Jewish students' ability to fully express their Jewish identity without fear," Hillel said in a statement. 

"We appreciate the UC Berkeley's administration and UCPD who were present and attempted to maintain order and see that the event could take place, even though they were unsuccessful. We support the university in holding these disruptors accountable for their actions and destruction of university property," the statement noted. 

Idan Harel, Bay Area regional manager for the organization that invited Bar-Yoshafat, Club Z, said the speaker was not the trigger for the riots.

"In the past, we also brought speakers from the Israeli left and there were also calls against it then. It's irrelevant. We are in the most antisemitic area in the United States, we need to understand that. Today it is dangerous to be a Jew here on campus. A student who was attacked is in intensive care. They spat on us. And students who stayed on campus have to deal with it every day. But we will not be silenced," Harel said.

"It feels like Germany in the 1930s here; there is silence from the authorities, and they don't try to make us feel safe," he went on. "I personally requested that there be increased policing at the event because I knew what awaited us, but I was ignored. Miraculously, more serious injuries were avoided. They came with clubs and sticks and were very violent. What will happen next?"

Bar-Yoshafat served in Gaza for several weeks in an IDF special forces unit following the Hamas massacre on Oct. 7. 

Israel's deputy consul general in San Francisco, Matan Zamir, responded to the riots, saying that "the consulate takes seriously the incident that occurred yesterday evening at the University of Berkeley. This event is the latest in a series of similar events on campuses across the U.S., which reflect a sharp and dangerous increase in the threat to the safety and security of Jewish and Israeli students, just because of their identity and their opinions."

"In a country that sanctifies freedom of expression and at a prestigious university that sanctifies academic freedom, a situation where violent and angry crowds is an impossible one meant dictate the policy on campus, as happened last night. The consulate is in contact with the organizers of the event and the campus authorities and continues, as in the past, to demand from the law enforcement authorities at Berkeley to quickly identify and punish all those involved in the incident, both on the criminal and the disciplinary level."

University officials called the incident “appalling” and said police had to cancel the event and escort students to safety because of the number of demonstrators and the threat of violence. 

“We had to make that choice between doing what was necessary to let the event go on, or protecting the people in the building,” said Dan Mogulof, UC Berkeley spokesman. 

In a message sent to university staff and students on Tuesday afternoon, UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ and Provost Benjamin E. Hermalin called the incident “an attack on the fundamental values of the university.”

Since the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas terrorists and their allies, as well as the ongoing war in Gaza, the university has seen multiple protests at its campus. However, Mogulof said that Monday’s incident was not violent in the past.

“We’ve had other demonstrators but not who were breaking down doors and windows,” he said. 

Social media posts encouraging protesters to show up on campus were responsible for the increased turnout for the event. Mogulof declined to give a specific number but said that the local police dispatched more officers on Monday night than any other on-campus protest since Oct. 7. 

Concerns regarding the event were heightened when school officials became aware of a social media announcement posted by "Bears for Palestine," a group on the Berkely campus, which called for protesters to “shut it down.”

The group claimed Bar-Yoshafat was invited to “spread settler colonial Zionist propaganda about the very genocide he has participated in” and called demonstrators to show up by 6 p.m.

On social media posts, Bears for Palestine representatives announced when the event was moved from one location to Zellerbach Playhouse, and posted a video of demonstrators marching toward the building, chanting, “Yoshafat, you can’t hide.”

In one video, UC Berkeley Chief of Police Yogananda Pittman could be seen with a microphone, calling for students to evacuate the room.

In a statement to the university, Christ and Hermalin confirmed that the building had been evacuated “to protect the speaker and the members of the audience.”

“We want to express our deep remorse and sympathy to those students and members of the public who were in the building, fearing for their safety,” the statement read.

“We deeply respect the right to protest as intrinsic to the value of a democracy at an institution of higher education. Yet, we cannot ignore protest activity that interferes with the rights of others to hear and/or express perspectives of their choosing. We cannot allow the use or threat of force to violate the First Amendment rights of a speaker, no matter how much we might disagree with their views.”

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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