Pro-Palestinian activists criticized UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Berdahl for signing his name to a full-page advertisement in the New York Times Monday that called for an end to intimidation of Jewish students on college campuses. The ad made no specific reference to the protection of Arabs or Muslims.
But university spokesperson Marie Felde said Berdahl has repeatedly spoken out against intimidation of Arabs, Muslims and other groups.
Felde also pointed to generic language at the end of the ad, an open letter signed by about 305 university presidents, condemning intimidation of “any group, person or cause.”
“His support of this letter was based on the final paragraphs of the letter,” she said. “There was no intent to be selective.”
But Chris Cantor, an activist with Students for Justice in Palestine, noted that a few university presidents refused to sign the letter because it did not include Arabs, and attacked the chancellor for attaching his name to the ad.
“We find it really interesting that Berdahl would [sign] an ad that targets violence and intimidation against Jewish students, but makes absolutely no mention of violence and intimidation against Arabs,” he said.
Many Jewish students, by contrast, welcomed the ad.
“It’s about time,” said student and City Council candidate Micki Weinberg. “There have been more than a few anti-Semitic acts on campus and very little dialogue.”
Weinberg pointed to a pair of incidents from the spring semester – an attack on two Orthodox Jews near the university’s Clark Kerr campus and vandalism of Berkeley Hillel, a center of Jewish cultural life.
“The people who have been attacked are Jews,” he said. “To deny that is outright wrong.”
Presidents from six colleges and universities, including Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, Brandeis University in Massachusetts and Howard University in Washington D.C., initiated the letter in recent weeks.
The American Jewish Committee, a New York-based non-profit, facilitated circulation of the letter and paid for the ad.
The letter calls for “an intimidation-free campus” and raises concerns about mounting harassment of Jewish students.
“We are concerned that recent examples of classroom and on-campus debate have crossed the line into intimidation and hatred, neither of which have any place on university campuses,” the letter reads.
“In the past few months, students who are Jewish or supporters of Israel’s right to exist – Zionists – have received death threats and threats of violence,” the piece continues. “These practices and others, directed against any person, group or cause, will not be tolerated on campus.”
Students for Justice in Palestine member Amy Aisen said the message didn’t go far enough.
“The principle of the ad is great, that we’re supporting peace on campus,” said Aisen. “It’s just unfortunate that only one group of students have been singled out [for protection].”