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Pro-Hamas Students Trespass at Jewish Faculty Head’s Private Event for Berkeley Law Students

A dinner for first-year Berkeley law students at Dean Erwin Chemerinsky’s home was disrupted by pro-Palestinian protesters last Tuesday, the Jewish professor said in a statement on Wednesday.

During the annual event in the Dean’s backyard, Palestinian Muslim student Malak Afaneh began a speech 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 her speech, 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. Our home is not a forum for free speech,” said Chemerinsky.

“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.”

Anti-Israel activists reportedly protested outside Chemerinsky’s home on Thursday, banging drums and chanting as he held another dinner with students.

“Some chants were quite offensive,” Chemerinsky claimed.

National Students for Justice in Palestine and Palestinian Youth Movement Bay Area posted footage of the incident in which Chemerinsky and his wife Berkeley Law Professor Catherine Fisk demanded that Afaneh leave their home. Afaneh responded that she had a free speech right to speak.

Fisk grabbed Afaneh’s phone, microphone, and arm as she urged the activist to leave, leading to SJP, PYM, Bears for Palestine, and Berkeley Law for Palestine to accuse the professor of assaulting the student.

The dean’s wife “assaulted a Palestinian Muslim hijabi law student that was exercising her First Amendment rights to draw attention to UC complicity in the genocide of the Palestinian people,” SJP and PYM claimed in a Wednesday Instagram post. “Fisk and Chemerinsky would rather resort to violently assaulting one of their students than face the truth of their support for genocide.”

According to CAIR, Afaneh said “Fisk’s assault was a symbol of the deeper Islamophobia, anti-Palestinian racism, and religious discrimination that runs rampant within the UC administration. I was attacked not only for speaking about Palestine but also because I was a Muslim woman who dared to wear a hijab and a keffiyeh and speak in my native tongue of Arabic, equating my identity with something that should be feared and someone who deserved to be silenced.”

Bears for Palestine and BLP called for the resignation of both academics, and local chapters of the Council on American–Islamic Relations and Arab Resource and Organizing Center on Friday created a letter campaign calling for disciplinary action against Fisk, the university’s adoption of BDS, and a Palestine Studies program.

Chemerinsky noted that a week before the dinners posters of him were placed around school bulletin boards featuring what he said was an antisemitic caricature of him with blood on his lips and cutlery in hand labeled “ “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,” said Chemerinsky. ‘Although many complained to me about the posters and how it 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.”

UC Berkeley Graduate Students for Justice in Palestine and BLP posted the image on Instagram on April 1, demanding that the university divest from companies with any relationship with Israel. The post also featured a quote by  Basil Al-Araj, who died in a gunfight with the IDF in 2017 during an attempt to arrest him for the suspected planning of terrorist attacks.

“In the face of thousands dead, millions starving, and a lack of condemnation of Israel’s campaign of ethnic cleansing, we refuse to sit in the presence of those who normalize such violence and continue to support it,” said the anti-Israel groups.

The student groups called for a boycott of the dinner. The students also told Chemerinsky that if he did not cancel the dinners they would protest them.

“I have spent my career staunchly defending freedom of speech. I have spent my years as a dean trying hard to create a warm, inclusive community,” said Chemerinsky. “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.”