Public History


Tony Platt and Jonathan Simon*

The Right loves to make a demonized Berkeley into a target of its campaigns and is very effective at turning progressive ideas into their opposite. The movement to diversify language and cultural dogmatism was transformed into Stalinist political correctness. Efforts to broaden the teaching of American history became anti-white critical race theory.

Now, a rightwing smear organization, the Orwellian “Accuracy in Media,” is trying to equate hate speech with Berkeley students’ right to call out racism in Israel. Moreover, it is now targeting activists by name.

The controversy began when Law Students for Justice in Palestine at Berkeley Law adopted a bylaw amendment pledging to dis-invite speakers who publicly defend Israel against charges of apartheid and systematic discrimination against Palestinians. The bylaw was promoted by campus-wide Students for Justice in Palestine (a pro-Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions group). Whatever one’s political position on this issue, the group’s policy is not a ban on speakers who are Jewish, or Israeli, or even speakers who take issue with aspects of the BDS movement. Moreover, it is Constitutionally protected speech that should be secure on ground zero of the Free Speech Movement.

Calling for a boycott of Israel on the basis of its racist policies towards Palestinians is not anti-Semitic. It is in the tradition of the successful movement to divest the university’s economic portfolio from apartheid in South Africa, a demand that was initially discredited and criminalized. In fact, many Jewish and Israeli students and faculty, as well as human rights organizations – B’teselm, Yesh Din, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International – take the position that Israel is an apartheid regime. “Boycott, divestment, and sanctions are commonplace, non-violent forms of political protest against states,” notes the Jerusalem Declaration on Anti-Semitism” (

The University’s linguistic gymnastics conflates critiques of the state of Israel with anti-Semitism, in line with the U.S. State Department’s endorsement of a policy that fits its foreign policy objectives. Berkeley follows the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition that, inter alia, characterizes anti-Semitism as criticizing Israel for engaging in a “racist endeavor.”

Berkeley goes beyond the Alliance’s position ( by arguing that the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, in the words of Chancellor Christ, “poses a direct and serious threat to the academic freedom of our students and faculty, as well as the unfettered exchange of ideas and perspectives on our campus, include debate and discourse regarding conflicts in the Middle East.”

How can ideas be unfettered if some are excluded?

In addition to circulating defamatory stories about what is happening at Berkeley Law, “Accuracy in Media” has recently driven a mobile billboard around Berkeley that likens Students for Justice in Palestine to Nazism, and slanders by name members of our community as anti-Semites. This provocation, in the words of Dean Chemerinsky, endangers “the safety of our students.”

This is the essence of hate speech.

The positions taken by student organizations that advocate justice and human dignity for Palestine are consistent with our university’s stated aspiration to becoming an anti-racist university.

Today, we stand with students who call for recognition of the rights and dignity of Palestinians, and who oppose apartheid in Israel. We call upon the University of California to defend our students’ right to speak truth to injustice.

*  Tony Platt is a Distinguished Affiliated Scholar at Berkeley Law’s Center for the Study of Law & Society. Professor Jonathan Simon teaches law and legal studies at Berkeley Law.

December 22, 2021

October 13, 2020

July 16, 2019

June 06, 2018

January 04, 2018

October 18, 2016

July 01, 2016

February 27, 2016

January 25, 2015

March 12, 2014