SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: February 26, 2024

Attack Types: Other

Institution(s):University of California Berkeley

Region & Country:Americas | United States of America

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On February 26, 2024, University of California Berkeley (Berkeley) police cancelled a lecture organized by three Jewish, pro-Israel student groups, Students Support Israel at Berkeley, Bears for Israel, and Berkeley Tikvah. The cancellation occurred shortly before the start of the event, after pro-Palestinian demonstrators broke a door and shattered two windows of the Zellerbach Playhouse building.

The three student groups had invited Ran Bar-Yoshafat, deputy director of the Kohelet Policy Forum–a conservative Jerusalem-based think tank that is influential in Israeli politics–and former member of the Israeli military, to give a lecture on campus.

In the lead up to the event, anticipating protests, the university moved the event from its original location to the playhouse, a “more secure venue.”

On February 25, the evening prior to the event, the pro-Palestinian student group Bears for Palestine posted on Facebook calling for people to protest the event and denouncing Bar-Yoshafat’s visit as one intended to “spread settler colonial Zionist propaganda.”

Shortly before the event began, a crowd of nearly 200 protesters gathered outside the playhouse. Videos posted on social media showed protesters banging on closed glass doors and breaking windows. In response to the disturbance, Berkeley’s campus security and police canceled the lecture and evacuated the attendees out of the building.

Four event attendees filed police reports, including two who alleged battery; one who alleged that he was injured as he struggled with protesters as he tried to close the venue’s door; and one who reported being taunted by antisemitic slurs. The latter report is being investigated as a hate crime. The university also announced that criminal and student conduct investigations have begun. The outcome of those investigations has not been reported publicly.

The event disruption occurred about four and a half months after a Hamas attack on Israel on October 7, during which over 1,200 Israelis and foreign nationals were killed and more than 200 abducted, and the Israeli military’s subsequent bombardment of the Gaza Strip which, as of early March 2024, has reportedly killed more than 30,000 Palestinians. The violence has led to heightened tensions on campuses in the United States and other countries.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the forcible cancellation of a campus event due to protesters’ disagreements with the speakers’ views. While the right of on-campus protesters to publicly express such disagreement must be protected, that right does not include the freedom to prevent others from speaking, or audiences on campus from receiving their messages. Rather, such expression must be conducted in a manner that is responsible and consistent with academic freedom and related university values. Forcible disruption of campus expression undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.

Sources:
https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2024-02-27/pro-palestinian-protesters-shut-down-event-organized-by-jewish-students-at-uc-berkeley
https://www.insidehighered.com/news/students/free-speech/2024/02/29/uc-berkeley-evacuates-event-amid-pro-palestinian-protest
https://www.independent.co.uk/news/israel-ap-jewish-uc-berkeley-christ-b2504359.html
https://www.berkeleyside.org/2024/02/27/uc-berkeley-israeli-speaker-protest