On the day after September 11, Micki Weinberg walked to the UC Berkeley campus still in shock. At the entrance to campus, facing Telegraph Avenue, huge sheets of blank paper were spread out as an impromptu memorial on which students, faculty, and other passersby were invited to write comments. Glad to have found such a forum, Weinberg scanned the inscriptions. Then he saw one, large and clear, that stopped him dead in his tracks:
“It’s the Jews, stupid.”
The slender Weinberg, a year younger than most freshmen, had only just arrived at Cal from Beverly Hills, where he had been president of his high school’s Shalom Club. As a young teenager, he had savored heady stories of how Mario Savio and his comrades in the Free Speech Movement danced the hora and sang “Hava Nagila” at sit-ins and peace rallies forty years ago. The son of left-wing, Jewish intellectuals, Weinberg viewed himself as one too, having spent the summer before his senior year of high school in Myanmar, cataloguing the archives of Rangoon’s disintegrating and depopulated Jewish synagogue. “That’s why I came to Berkeley — because of its strong romantic aura of the Free Speech Movement and Mario Savio,” he recalls. “Then I got here and discovered that that light seems to have been extinguished. You have this vitriol. You feel it everywhere. Berkeley is now the epicenter of real hatred.”
Almost three years later, Weinberg graduates this month as a student whose days at Cal were marked by what he calls “pinnacles of horror,” in the pinched tone of a man betrayed. He remembers pro-Palestinian protesters insisting that Israeli border crossings are as bad as Nazi death camps. He remembers the glass front door of Berkeley’s Hillel building — where he attends Friday night services — shattered by a cinderblock, with the message FUCK JEWS scrawled nearby. He remembers the spray-painted swastikas discovered one Monday morning last September on the walls of four lecture rooms in LeConte Hall accompanied by the chilling bilingual message, “Die, Juden. “
In recent years the international press has documented the resurgence of anti-Semitism around the world. Jewish schoolkids have been attacked by epithet-shouting gangs in Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, France, and Brazil. Synagogues have been destroyed in Marseille and Istanbul; a Jewish school was firebombed this spring in Montreal; “Death to the Jews” was shouted through bullhorns outside a temple in South Africa. AP ran photos last month of a Jewish graveyard in eastern France where a hundred tombstones had been spray-painted with blood-red swastikas and the Nazi slogan Juden Raus: “Jews out.” The Chicago Sun-Times and the British Guardian report that a ubiquitous chant at European soccer matches — leveled at London and Rotterdam teams perceived as having Jewish roots — is “Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas.”
Such anti-Semitism has always seemed the sinister province of fascists and neo-Nazis, Spanish Inquisitors and tattooed skinheads. How topsy-turvy, then, to discover that some of the most virulent anti-Semitism in America today seethes amid the multicultural ferment of American college campuses. And at UC Berkeley, which owes as much of its allure to radical rhetoric as to academic excellence, it thrives.
“Anti-Semitism is not part of the average Berkeley student’s thinking, but it exists in certain departments,” said theater arts professor Mel Gordon, who was involved in an altercation with student supporters of Palestine in 2001. “It’s an obnoxious Berkeley tradition, bringing political agendas into the classroom. And since Berkeley always wants everything in the world to be about Berkeley, Berkeley wants the Israel-Palestine conflict to be about Berkeley.”
Student Daniel Frankenstein recalls being heckled and called a “conservative Zionist bastard” when he ran for student-body president last year. “One girl working on my campaign was followed around by someone who kept asking her, ‘Are you a Jewgirl? Frankenstein’s a Jew, so isn’t everyone who’s working for him a Jew?'” he said. Incidents such as these have convinced Frankenstein, who is graduating this month and taking a government job in Washington, DC, that “it is really socially acceptable to be anti-Semitic on the Berkeley campus.”
A milder but more instructive glimpse of the hatreds that inflame Cal was on display February 10, the day Daniel Pipes lectured at UC Berkeley’s Pimentel Hall. Pipes runs a project called Campus Watch, which through its Web site, CampusWatch.org, monitors Middle Eastern Studies departments at American schools, including Cal. The site keeps dossiers on instructors it believes are biased against the United States, and Pipes writes a steady stream of articles with intentionally provocative headlines such as “When Osama Bin Laden Becomes PC” and “The Muslims Are Coming! The Muslims Are Coming!”
Berkeley Hillel, the Jewish student organization that sponsored the event, had printed fliers calling Pipes “a member of the presidentially appointed US Institute for Peace and a prize-winning columnist.” His detractors called him something else entirely. “Racist Daniel Pipes to speak at UC Berkeley,” ran an announcement at Indybay.org the day of the lecture, urging readers to protest this visit by a “notable bigot and neo-McCarthyist.”
Outside the hall where Pipes was to speak, you could cut the tension with a knife. Protesters had assembled early: young women wearing the hijab; young men clad in yarmulkes or Muslim skullcaps; and, of course, plenty of Cal sweatshirts. One protester hoisted a sign reading, “Israel: Born of British colonialism. Created through Zionist terrorism. Supported by Western imperialism. Sustained by Israeli militarism.” Another man circulated silently, bearing a small sign that read, “Another Jew opposed to Daniel Pipes.” Female voices ululated.
One flier making the rounds declared, “The neoconservatives and the Jewish Lobby … planned the Iraq wars. … Most of the US media … are Jewish owned.” Meanwhile, the largest sign said, “I Want You! to DIE for Israel. Israel sings: ‘Onward christian soldiers.'” On the reverse side, in an attempted riff on “Pax Americana,” the sign said, “I WANT YOU TO KILL FOR THE AMERA-ISRAELA POX!” Large rakish swastikas replaced the letter “s” in “Israel” on both sides of the sign. The sign-bearer’s Uncle Sam hat was emblazoned with another swastika.
“So what exactly does Daniel Pipes represent to you?” one young protester demanded of a middle-aged man whose point of view she surmised by his refusal to accept a pamphlet. “Are you proud of his racism?”
Two male students, like college guys anywhere, eyed a group of young women whose hair was hidden under the hijab, their blue-jeaned legs and excited voices shivery in the cold. “I wonder how all these women who are supporting the Arabs would feel about being clitorecticized,” one of the guys murmured to his friend. By that, he meant the practice of clitoridectomy, which is followed in some traditional Islamic cultures.
Sophomore Sandra Tahani was one of the women wearing headscarves. “Daniel Pipes is trying to incite pure hatred and racism,” she said with fire in her eyes. “He wants to shut down the Center for Middle Eastern Studies. I’m with Students for Justice in Palestine. I’m with the Muslim Students Association, too. I’m with everyone that stands for justice. I’m an American.” She said her parents are Muslim, although her mother converted from Judaism. “Coming from a Jewish heritage — she has relatives that died in the Holocaust — my mom says the Holocaust is being used to justify the Israeli occupation of Palestine.” Other young women in headscarves clustered around her, their eyes blazing too.
A hush fell over the crowd as four women protesters in black clothing slowly descended into the plaza. Balanced on the shoulders of each was an armchair-sized papier-mâché head complete with hijab and frozen expression of grief. The women’s eyes peered through the gaping papier-mâché mouths. Forming a row, they faced the crowd with gloved hands upraised as if in supplication. A pink-faced man moved somberly from one to the next, symbolically draping limp rag dummies in the shape of dead babies over the waiting arms of each.
“This is worse than the Warsaw ghetto,” muttered a Jewish man in the queue.
As campus police assembled at the entrance to the hall and prepared to open its doors, a kaffiyeh-clad protester hoisted a placard that read: “What is going on in Palestine today cannot be justified by any moral code of conduct.” The quote was attributed to Mahatma “Ghandi” in 1938, albeit a decade before there was an Israel. A silver-haired man, older than most in the crowd, burst out of the line to confront him.
“Do you know what it’s like to be on a bus, and to see that bus blow up and see heads roll down the street?” the older man shouted, arms wild at his sides. “I’ve seen it — in Israel.”
The sign-bearer stood firm. “Well, they should have been killed,” he yelled, his voice rising. “They should have been killed! They should have been killed because it wasn’t their land! They should have been killed and it should have been more.”
“You don’t know history,” the older man yelled. “You don’t know anything.”
The protester gave as good as he got: “You can leave. Get your ass out of here and back to Israel.” Then, equating Israelis with criminals who have broken into someone else’s house, he said homeowners in such an instance have the right to kill. “If you broke into someone’s house and stole something … you’d deserve to die! The Jews broke into Palestine and stole the land — so they deserve to die. … What’s your address? Why won’t you tell me? Are you afraid? I’ll come break into your house and we’ll see if you try to kill me. It’s natural.”
Berkeley students always have found something to protest since the beginnings of the Free Speech Movement in 1964. But after the fall of the Berlin Wall, radical rhetoric took a brief sabbatical. Activists cast about for an issue with the proper political pedigree, one that could capture the hearts and minds of a new generation of students. And then, in the late ’90s, many on the campus left adopted Palestine: a struggle involving both economics and ethnicity, one in which an underclass battled a militarily and economically dominant opponent. Today, politics at Cal are stoked by a faraway conflict that affects students’ rhetoric, the clothes they wear, and the screamed curses that will echo forever in their college memories. While a sizable portion of UC Berkeley’s thirty thousand students remain more or less oblivious, angry factions clash, spit, and hit. They lob verbal Molotov cocktails: apartheid, atrocities, genocide, fascist, Nazi, racist, terrorist. Both camps claim to have history — and, if it comes to that, God — on their sides. Every historical detail, every phrase, is the subject of fierce wrangling. Even little slogans such as “End the occupation” are hives of controversy. After all, to some, “occupation” refers exclusively to Jewish settlements founded after 1967 in the West Bank; to others, it means the Jewish presence in all of present-day Israel.
In Berkeley’s version of the struggle, Israel is more often cast as the villain, the denier of statehood, the vector of violence, the mocker and crusher of human rights. “Israel,” pleaded a poster on a visiting instructor’s door this term in Barrows Hall, “Stop Killing Peace.”
Israel has always been a fait accompli for most young Jews, a fact taken for granted. Many have never set foot there nor even especially wanted to, not because of politics but because they’d rather see Prague or Cancún. For many in their parents’ generation, however, Israel is not a rats’ nest of fascism and right-wing aggression, but a socialist and largely secular paradise where the ideas of the midcentury left finally bore fruit. But these days, Jewish students at Cal are compelled to take sides for the first time in their lives — redefining old attitudes and, in the process, defining themselves.
As the old joke goes: two Jews, three opinions. Even inside the pro-Israel camp, approval for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s government is far from unanimous. Ditto opinions on the settlements, the separation wall, the Oslo accords, and Palestinian statehood. More than twenty different Jewish student groups are affiliated with UC Berkeley. For some, support for Israel comes down to the bottom line: a basic belief that the Jewish state has a right to exist — since millions around the world believe it doesn’t.
Amid this polarizing rhetoric, “Zionist” has become the most cutting of slurs. To say that this word — coined in 1896 to name a movement based on the idea of Jews returning to the region from which they dispersed after Jerusalem was ravaged by the Roman army in 70 CE — means different things to different people is a wild understatement. Micki Weinberg shakes his head in disbelief when remembering a newspaper article “that described me as an outspoken Zionist — as if that was a bad thing.”
And yet Jews are among the most vocal members of Students for Justice in Palestine, a student group founded at Cal in 2000 that now boasts chapters at dozens of other universities, including Yale, Princeton, and Columbia. The group’s most ambitious project, one inspired by past campus campaigns urging divestment from apartheid South Africa, is its drive to push the UC regents to divest from companies that do more than $5 million a year of business with Israel. The petition has acquired more than six thousand signatures so far from UC faculty, students, and staff. Jewish surnames abound on the petitions.
The tension on campus started long before the latest intifada. One March day in 1996, a group of battle-fatigue-clad young men made their way across crowded Sproul Plaza chanting “Hezbollah! Hezbollah!” — the name of the Lebanon-based organization in whose ranks suicide bombing is said to have been invented. When they reached Sproul Steps, the men took turns praising Palestinian suicide bombers who had carried out recent attacks in Israel: The preceding two weeks had been marked by two bus-bombings, a bus-stop bomb, and a shopping-mall bomb with a total of 67 killed. One of the demonstrators led the group in loudly declaring his willingness to become a martyr. The men then trampled and spat on an Israeli flag. In preparation for the event, “Zionism is fascism” had been chalked onto sidewalks surrounding the campus.
By April of 2001, Students for Justice in Palestine had become large enough to stage a high-profile sit-in at UC’s Wheeler Hall. The group had demanded that the regents divest from companies with significant holdings in Israel. When the regents failed to respond, dozens of group members chained shut nine of the building’s twelve doors. They formed human chains to block two of the remaining doors and ushered students out of the building through the last door. Professor Gordon, who had an important class scheduled that day in Wheeler, burst through the chain of students only to be showered with spit and hit by a student. Gordon filed a formal charge of assault against the student who had taken the lead, and his assailant was required to perform community service and write a formal apology.
Later that year, 23-year-old Aaron Schwartz was walking toward the Hillel building as part of an obviously Jewish group celebrating the annual holiday Simchas Torah. According to accounts in The Daily Californian and the Jewish Bulletin of Northern California, one onlooker mocked the procession by goose-stepping in place, chanting “Heil Hitler,” and performing the Nazi salute. After punching Schwartz in the face and knocking him to the ground, the man and his two companions strolled away.
But many remember spring 2002 as the season the screaming really started. On spring break, someone hurled the cinderblock through the front door of Berkeley’s Hillel Center, scrawling the words FUCK JEWS nearby. Also that spring, catalogues appeared listing courses that would be offered during the forthcoming fall semester. One of these was an English course titled “The Politics and Poetics of Palestinian Resistance.” Its instructor was graduate student Snehal Shingavi, a prominent member of Students for Justice in Palestine. Among the required textbooks for the class was The New Intifada: Resisting Israel’s Apartheid. In the official catalogue, the course was described as addressing “the brutal Israeli military occupation of Palestine, an occupation that has been ongoing since 1948, has systematically displaced, killed, and maimed millions of Palestinian people. … This class will examine the history of the Palestinian resistance and the way that it is narrated by Palestinians in order to produce an understanding of the intifada. … Conservative thinkers are encouraged to seek other sections.” The national media had a field day with it. Responding to the outcry, the UC administration issued a statement attributing the course description to “a failure of oversight on the part of the English Department in reviewing course proposal descriptions.” Shingavi’s “no conservatives allowed” shtick was deemed discriminatory, and the official course description was altered. By that time, however, the class was already full, and even boasted a waiting list.
Micki Weinberg remembers the events of April 9, 2002 as one of his pinnacles of horror. On that day, Students for Justice in Palestine held a rally on campus to commemorate 1948’s Deir Yassin massacre, in which Israeli forces killed a hundred Palestinian civilians in a village near Jerusalem. Also that day, at the same time and virtually the same place, Jewish students gathered for a vigil to mark Yom Ha’Shoah, the annual Holocaust remembrance day. Whether these two commemorations were scheduled concurrently by happenstance or on purpose has been a matter of debate ever since.
At noon, Sproul Plaza was packed solid with an estimated six hundred to a thousand students, the majority of whom were Palestinian supporters. Palestinian and Israeli flags fluttered against the gray sky. One sign read, “Israel lovers are the Nazis of our time.” Another proclaimed, “Today, Israel is killing terrorists who would attack America.” Voices blared through megaphones. “Anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism,” declared pro-Palestinian community activist Micah Bazant — the Jewish son of a Holocaust survivor. “Yes it is, yes it is!” chorused another group of students. A skirl of rage erupted when Bazant began reciting the Kaddish, the traditional Hebrew prayer of mourning, in honor of the Deir Yassin dead.
Both before and after April 9, Weinberg counted among his friends several anti-Israel activists and members of Students for Justice in Palestine. But that afternoon threw into nauseating relief the razor-sharpness of the wedge between himself and those friends. Weinberg recalls being handed a leaflet by anti-Israel demonstrators on which photographs of Nazi soldiers herding European Jews onto cattle cars were juxtaposed with photographs of Israeli soldiers and Palestinians. “1942. Poland,” the message on the leaflet warned. “Do not let it happen again.” Weinberg kept it as a souvenir. “It was sick and twisted,” he later recalled.
Student Daniel Frankenstein, meanwhile, was passing the pro-Palestinian demonstrators on his way to class that afternoon when a wad of spit splattered his leg. Among the hundreds gathered there, it was impossible to identify the spitter.
“It landed on my thigh, and instead of stooping to their level I just wiped it off and continued walking to class,” he recalled. “And frankly, it doesn’t matter who did it. Whoever did it was associated with this movement and this protest, and this is indicative of how confident they felt in their message. It’s ironic, because it absolutely represents the lack of discussion and lack of freedom for the people they’re trying to represent — and this vicious cycle of not wanting to hear the other side of an issue.”
Frankenstein believes the protesters recognized him as a supporter of Israel and an opponent of Students for Justice in Palestine. As a student senator that spring, he had been openly pro-Israel. His parents used to smuggle books to Jewish refuseniks in the USSR, and one of his earliest memories is of chanting, “Let my people go!” at a rally outside San Francisco’s Soviet Consulate. Far from silent on the student senate floor, Frankenstein had opposed a proposal that Cal become a sister school with a Palestinian university. The registered Democrat remembers his critics calling him a “conservative Zionist bastard” and proclaiming, “Frankenstein supports killing innocent children in the Middle East.”
The pro-Palestinian demonstrators ultimately marched through Sather Gate to Wheeler Hall, where again they staged a sit-in. Nearly eighty protesters, including 41 students, were arrested and charged with unlawful occupation, resisting arrest, and, in one case, biting a cop. The university also suspended the official privileges of Students for Justice in Palestine and charged the arrested students with violating its Code of Student Conduct — an offense that carries the possible penalty of suspension for a school year. Students for Justice in Palestine responded with a dispatch signed by instructor Shingavi, who maintained that the group had been singled out for punishment because it was pro-Palestinian.
At a rally on campus protesting the arrests, Palestinian-born Islamic Studies lecturer Hatem Bazian spoke stirringly. Cal’s administration, he reportedly told the crowd, was under pressure to punish the demonstrators. As for the source of that pressure, Micki Weinberg recalls Bazian telling his listeners that the answer lay in the names of UC Berkeley’s buildings. Zellerbach, Bazian offered pointedly. And Haas. And Moses.
Standing in the crowd, Weinberg fumed. Rising around them, after all, were the campus’s other hundred or so buildings, with names anything but Jewish — names such as Hearst, Barrows, Evans, Campbell, Tang, Giannini, Latimer, O’Brien, McCone, Etcheverry, Sproul, Warren, Morrison, Stephens, Edwards, Chavez, and King.
“I yelled out, ‘That’s anti-Semitic!'” he recalled. “But he just repeated what he had said. The crowd was cheering. It just didn’t make sense to me. If he’s worried about countries with democratic problems, he has other things to worry about than the Cal music building.”
All charges against the arrested protesters were eventually dropped, none were suspended, and no formal admissions of guilt or wrongdoing were ever made. The university reinstated the privileges of Students for Justice in Palestine.
A strong pro-Muslim bias pervades American academia, Daniel Pipes argues, and its by-product is the dissemination of anti-Israel and anti-US sentiments to a generation of students. “The scholars set the tone — they’re considered the experts,” he said in a short interview before his Cal appearance. “The problem with Berkeley is that the scholarship here is so one-sided, representing only one point of view. And that point of view is hostile to the US and to friends of the US. I’m not saying that’s a viewpoint that should have no representation. It’s the unremitting quality of it that I object to, the indoctrination.
“The politicization of this university began forty years ago, and what has emerged at Berkeley is a working relationship between the leftists and the Islamists,” he continued. “The left has been looking for a revolutionary movement for quite some time. So here come these people and they’re actually doing it.” Pipes was careful to remind his listener that the revolution in question entails “the blowing up of buildings.”
UC Berkeley has attracted the scrutiny of Campus Watch more than once; a page on CampusWatch.org is devoted entirely to articles concerning Cal and its faculty. Hatem Bazian recently earned himself a place on its home page for comments he made at an April 10 San Francisco antiwar rally. “Are you angry?” Bazian asked the Civic Center crowd. “Well, we’ve been watching intifada in Palestine, we’ve been watching an uprising in Iraq. … How come we don’t have an intifada in this country? … It’s about time that we have an intifada in this country that changes fundamentally the political dynamics in here. … They’re gonna say some Palestinian being too radical. Well, you haven’t seen radicalism yet!” Waving signs bearing slogans such as “Support armed resistance in Iraq” and “Support Our Mutineers,” the crowd cheered his speech; he has been defending his statements in forums such as The O’Reilly Factor ever since. Bazian, who can recall being stripped naked at the Israeli border and being humiliated at Israeli checkpoints, takes palpable pride in pointing out that the vast majority of Cal students fighting for Palestine have never been there and are not even Muslim. “It’s not unique that white students would support a Muslim issue,” he mused in an interview shortly after the Pipes lecture. “Young people simply see that there is an injustice being perpetrated, and they rally around it. Look at the civil rights movement in the ’60s — the lunch-counter protest was led by university students.”
Unsurprisingly, there’s no love lost between Bazian and Pipes. “The quote-unquote scholarly Daniel Pipes belongs to a think tank — which is an oxymoron in terms of him,” Bazian said. “He just wants attention, bringing his circus around. You know what they say: People with small intellects go after those with large intellects.”
Pipes’ organization has directed even heavier scrutiny upon Cal’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies. In 1998, the Saudi Arabia-based Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud Foundation gave the school $5 million to establish the Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud Program in Arab and Islamic Studies. Named for Saudi Arabia’s second deputy prime minister, it comprises a visiting professorship, visiting scholars, a graduate fellows program, a research fund, an outreach fund, and a luxe new facility in Stephens Hall. Presented with the donation by Prince Faisal bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud and Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud in November of that year, Chancellor Robert Berdahl declared the university “delighted to accept this gift from our friends in Saudi Arabia.”
CampusWatch.org subsequently posted an article noting that families of 9/11 victims had jointly filed a $1 trillion class-action suit implicating Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud in the attacks, alleging that he had failed to curtail the channeling of charity money into terrorist organizations.
University officials maintain that the Center for Middle Eastern Studies operates under no obligation to its donors, pointing out that the center also receives funding from the Diller Family Jewish Studies and Israeli Visiting Scholars Program. Cal alum Helen Diller established the program last year because she was disturbed by the fervency of anti-Israel protests on campus and because she felt Israel was not well represented at the center. However, tensions flared when the university chose as its first Diller visiting professor the Israeli geographer Oren Yiftachel, an outspoken advocate for the Palestinian cause.
Although the center recently hosted a conference titled “Islamicizing Space in the Cosmopolis,” the names of courses offered through the center hardly have a sinister ring to them. Among those offered next fall are “Harems and Court Cultures,” “Multicultural Europe,” “Medieval Hebrew Poetry,” and “Introduction to Byzantine Civilization.” And Prince Bandar, for his part, decried as “a crime” Yasir Arafat’s refusal to accept the peace deal brokered by President Bill Clinton in 2001. But it is what might go on in such classrooms that worries
Other supporters of Israel worry too. Jesse Gabriel, who was student body president in 2002, became concerned after enrolling in an introductory Middle Eastern history course during one of his first semesters at Cal.
“I purposely sought one out that was being taught by a Palestinian professor, because I figured I can’t learn if I’m only studying stuff I already know and already agree with,” he recalled. But as the term progressed, “there were things my professor said in class that were completely offensive to me. My professor did several lectures on the Israel-Palestine conflict and did not mention terrorism once. There was no discussion of Israel’s security situation. It was very one-sided.”
All around him, Gabriel saw eager first-year students accepting it all as the whole story. “This is a very big university, an internationally known university that is very highly rated for its scholarship,” he said. “There are no faculty members willing to stand up and defend Israel — and very many who are willing to stand up and criticize it.” Associate Professor Beshara Doumani declined to discuss Gabriel’s claim, lamenting the frequency with which such challenges are being leveled at Middle Eastern studies instructors nationwide, fueled by the muckraking of Campus Watch and similar groups.
Gabriel, who grew up in a largely Jewish community just north of the San Fernando Valley, where Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur were official holidays at the public schools he attended, said he “honestly never encountered anyone who was anti-Semitic or anti-Israel” — until he came to Cal. “I used to think anti-Semitism was something you encountered in history books about what happened in Berlin in 1939,” said the political-science major. “But my first stepping foot on campus in 2000 coincided exactly with the outbreak of the Al Aqsa intifada. So for a lot of students my age, their experience in dealing with the increase of violence in the Middle East has defined their identities.”
When Gabriel was settling into life on campus, he frequently sported a favorite T-shirt whose front bore the Coca-Cola logo in Hebrew. When Jewish friends warned him that by wearing the T-shirt he was “asking for trouble,” he snorted in disbelief. But the logo did spark hostility, he said, just as Micki Weinberg said his yarmulke had attracted “dirty looks.”
Perhaps no classroom dispute at Cal has acquired the same level of notoriety as when student Susanna Klein claimed last August that her Arabic-language instructor had defended The Protocols of the Elders of Zion as a legitimate historical document. Those were fighting words. In a letter to College of Letters and Science executive dean Ralph Hexter, Klein wrote that Iraqi-born doctoral candidate Abbas Kadhim had “announced before the entire class during a discussion on Zionism that he believes that the infamous text The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is not an anti-Semitic forgery but was in fact written by Jews.” She also filed complaints with other university officials, calling for Kadhim’s dismissal.
One of the world’s fiercest works of propaganda, the Protocols purport to be the minutes of a meeting in which Jewish leaders outline a strategy for taking over the world. Since it first started circulating in 1897, the document has been conclusively discredited by major international scholars, who have outed it as a fake contrived by Russian officers in Czar Nicholas II’s secret police. In a landmark 1993 case, a Russian court ruled that the Protocols is an anti-Semitic forgery. Details of its provenance have emerged: As early as 1921, the London Times ran a series of articles demonstrating that the Protocols are derived from Dialogues in Hell, a political satire authored in 1864 by French lawyer Maurice Joly. Extensive passages of the Protocols match passages in Dialogues nearly word for word. But it still finds large and eager audiences. Distributed by the Nation of Islam, widely available on the Internet, a popular seller in bookstores from Argentina to Croatia to Japan, the Protocols are also widely taken for truth throughout the Arab world. A major Egyptian publisher issued a new edition in 2002. That year, Egyptian state television aired Horseman Without a Horse, a thirty-part miniseries based on the Protocols.
Klein’s letter to Dean Hexter continued: “I asked Mr. Kadhim if he was being serious about his claim. He assured me that he was 100 percent certain in his belief that Jews were behind the Protocols. … I am disgusted that UC Berkeley is giving a forum to an ignorant, anti-Semitic, and prejudiced individual.” Klein also posted her complaint on the NoIndoctrination.org Web site.
In his subsequent rebuttal, also on that site, Kadhim defended his teaching methods but pointedly avoided mentioning the Protocols. However, he was quoted elsewhere as saying that he had merely been “explaining the conventional wisdom of Iraqis” and that when push came to shove he couldn’t be certain who authored the Protocols. “I know some people say it is a forgery and some people say it is not,” he told The Jewish Bulletin, “but it is not my job or duty to know the details.” In a letter to UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, who took an interest in the case and began a correspondence, Kadhim elaborated further: “As you know, this issue of authenticity and the identity of the author — or authors — of the Protocols has not been settled … I am not in the business of endorsing one view over the other.” Today, nearly a year after the incident, Kadhim calls it a sad episode. “It was an absolutely false accusation,” he said. “At this time, I believe that it does not deserve to be dignified by any more discussion.”
A Daily Californian article about the case described Klein as both “brilliant” and “belligerent.” Her classmates came to Kadhim’s defense. “Several other students in the class also submitted a complaint, about Klein, however, claiming she was disruptive and that she also accused classmates of being anti-Semitic on several occasions,” The Daily Cal wrote. After conducting an investigation, the university issued an official statement declaring Klein’s charge baseless.
On the day Pipes made his case in person, no purses or backpacks were allowed into the lecture hall for security reasons. Members of the audience were admonished not to shout, heckle, or hold up signs, at the risk of being escorted out of the building. Campus police patted down each person coming through the door.
The auditorium was full, with protesters occupying several rows on the right flank and scattered throughout the hall. The overhead lights bathed a sea of shining hair, flowing scarves, and skullcaps. One man’s olive-drab yarmulke had the words “Israeli Army” embroidered on it. Campus police studded the aisles, five down each side. Dark-suited bodyguards framed the podium as Pipes, looking formal and disarmingly slight, entered the room to a storm of boos and applause.
“It’s an unfortunate fact of university life that such security is necessary today,” Pipes said. Still, after teaching thousands of students at the University of Chicago and Harvard and delivering nearly a thousand lectures at other universities over the last few years, he could not possibly have been surprised by the response his remarks elicited. Indeed, within moments, the first heckler leapt to his feet and was escorted out. Again and again, as Pipes parsed the difference between mainstream Muslims and “militant Islam,” the auditorium rang with both wild cheers of approval and cries of outrage.
“The same people who support militant Islam,” Pipes ventured in a butter-cookie voice whose softness seemed a calculated counterpoint to its message, “support suicide bombers and Saddam Hussein.”
To the accompaniment of cheers and cries of outrage, a red-haired female protester became especially vocal and was escorted out.
“This is an ideology like fascism and like Marxism that seeks to impose views on its subjects,” Pipes said, calling it a “totalitarian ideology which we must seek to destroy.”
From among the protesters, a voice shouted: “You guys are Nazis!”
“Why was the World Trade Center attacked?” Pipes asked. “What was the reason?”
“Zionism!” someone yelled.
When Pipes proposed that global unrest can be addressed only “when we call it what it is: not a war on terrorism but a war on militant Islam,” a chanting chorus erupted: “Ra-cist! Ra-cist!”
“Let him speak!” came a strangled yell. “Freedom of speech!”
“It’s so satisfying to see one’s theoretical points proven so quickly,” Pipes said in his best butter-cookie voice.
When he went on to call for Palestinian acceptance of Israel’s existence, hisses swirled in the hall like steam. “No!” shouted many in the crowd.
“Death to Zionism!” proclaimed a voice.
“I thought this was an institution of higher learning,” Pipes said, baiting his hecklers.
“You racist Jew!” cried the protester who had been hoisting the Gandhi sign.
Pipes asked what race had to do with anything: “I haven’t mentioned race.”
He reserved the evening’s harshest criticism for “my colleagues in Middle Eastern studies,” among whom he decried “a significant element of incompetence. The field is adversarial, intolerant, and my colleagues consistently get the facts wrong.” This met with laughter from the crowd, half in gleeful accord and half in derision. By exercising what he called “abusive power over students,” Pipes said Middle Eastern studies instructors “too often coerce students into taking a party line, at the same time intimidating and penalizing those who don’t.”
“End, end the occupation! Free, free Palestine!”
Another sign waved in the air and another protester was escorted out. “Go blow yourself up,” someone yelled at the protester’s departing figure.
“I don’t think my colleagues are doing a good job,” Pipes continued. “If I think my colleagues in Middle Eastern studies aren’t doing a good job, why don’t I have the right to say so? Why do I get called names?”
“Because you’re a racist Jew!”
“These scholars know better,” Pipes continued, “but they’re hiding what they know.”
“My, my,” he said, looking up with a wry smile from the microphone. “Don’t we have elevated discourse at this university.”
After the lecture, attendees filed out of the hall to discover that the protesters had massed so as to allow only a narrow passage between themselves and a retaining wall. In effect, all those leaving the lecture were forced to walk a gauntlet. Some ducked their heads, others set their jaws in anger, squeezing past the dozens of assembled faces chanting “Shame! Shame! Shame!” as fists pumped the air in unison.
A young woman in a kaffiyeh screamed up at a Jewish student significantly larger than herself. Her lips were wet with fury. “If I don’t agree with you, then you call it anti-Semitism!” she shouted, as friends arrived to support her. The young man was surrounded. “You call it anti-Semitismmm!” she raged. “Why can’t you tolerate anti-Semitismmm?”
“I can tolerate it,” the student replied, his voice a low, tired rumble. “I have to. It exists. I just don’t have to like it.”
Student Ismail Ibrahim attended and protested the Pipes event. Standing alongside fellow members of the Muslim Students Association, the glossy-haired history major stood with friends, classmates, and total strangers, shouting “Shame!” until his cheeks glowed and his voice grew hoarse. “I study history, so I know the truth,” he said.
Pipes’ critics, Ibrahim among them, charge that Campus Watch’s practice of posting dossiers on certain university instructors is nothing short of blacklisting.
“One of my primary concerns is that Daniel Pipes is a noted Islamophobe, a noted Muslim hater,” said Ibrahim, whose eyes shine with warm intelligence. “This event was a circus and Daniel Pipes is the ringmaster, and I’m reminded of the same type of racist propaganda that was used in European history to justify the extermination of other racial groups.
“Pipes is a hack,” continued the graduating senior, whose parents came to the United States some twenty years ago from Pakistan, and who agreed to speak only if identified by a pseudonym. “He’s playing on the fears of Americans who are generally ill-informed about the Middle East, about Arabs and Muslims — and who think all those things are one and the same. His partisans typically happen to be Zionists. … Immediately after the Oklahoma City bombing, Daniel Pipes said, ‘We told you so — it was Arabs.’ After 9/11, there’s definitely an environment in which Muslims and Arabs are called into question as being un-American. A wave of Islamophobia has swept the American public,” and Pipes and his supporters “play demagogue to it. … The bottom line is, it’s just chicanery.”
Yet Ibrahim also denounced anti-Semitism: “It’s a malignancy, an egregious practice, and it should be wiped out, like any form of racism.” He finds it odd that “the very same community that has experienced hate and is very sensitive to these dialectics brought a noted racist to campus. … These people don’t even look at the Palestinians as human beings,” he said. “It’s so ironic — in effect they’re ignoring the history of their own suffering.”
Ibrahim said he has been horrified by discussions with fellow students who were so radicalized in their view of Palestinians as subhumans. “If you criticize Israel, you are going to be labeled anti-Semitic,” he said, adding that this conflation is dangerous for the way it tends to stifle legitimate criticism.
Also problematic, he said, is the enthusiastic Israel-boosting of Jewish student groups such as Hillel. “There’s a great movement within Jewish student organizations which tries to identify Judaism with Israel in terms of building Jewish identity.” The result, he added, is the construction of artificial identities in which American Jews believe that their fate is inextricably linked to that of Israel. Upon reflection, he added, “maybe they actually are.”
But what of Jews who feel “that ‘If Israel doesn’t have the right to exist, then how do we as Jews have the right to exist?'” Ibrahim asked. “It’s very hurtful for Hillel to do that” — to emphasize the right-to-exist premise. “It oversimplifies it. Look: Jews existed prior to the state of Israel’s existence. And even if Israel didn’t exist, they still would.”
Daniel Frankenstein was at the Pipes lecture too. Sitting near the back, he watched with bitter amusement as a large group of protesters got up and left the building right before the question-and-answer session, chanting slogans and appearing to sob as they left. Their sobs were fake, he said. “It was just what I expected from them: the overdramatization of a misconception. Pipes wasn’t saying anything that makes people cry, and I know these individuals and they’re not people who cry. They were holding their hands over their faces but it was just a dramatic thing.”
Not that Frankenstein is an all-out Pipes fan. “Daniel Pipes invented this curriculum where he wants to be interrupted. It helps him — and that’s scary in itself.”
No less scary, Frankenstein believes, than the contrast between the response elicited by Pipes’ lecture and that produced by a visit last year from the late Columbia University professor and Palestine advocate Edward Said. “When Said came to campus, he wasn’t interrupted. There wasn’t anybody outside protesting his right to be there. Edward Said was a fraud. He was outed by The New York Times as a fraud.” (An article in that paper claimed Said had fabricated elements of his own autobiography.)
Outside Pimentel Hall after the Pipes lecture, Frankenstein approached a protester who was venting a distaste for America. Frankenstein suggested that the protester leave America and go to Iran. “I hear the weather there is really nice this time of year,” he told the man.
Such are the barbs flung by adversaries on opposite sides. But what happens in the absence of adversaries? “Liberation Through Islam” was the theme of the sixth annual Muslim Students Association West Conference, held on the Cal campus this February. Organized by the group’s western regional arm, which has chapters at universities throughout the United States and Canada, the weekend-long series of workshops, lectures, and other events drew an estimated eight hundred members from colleges all over California and beyond. Programs on the agenda ranged from the spiritual to the social to the political.
On Valentine’s Day, the second day of the conference, young women wearing the hijab circulated around the steps of Wheeler Hall. Many wore long robes, too, although most wore jeans and blouses with the scarf. Clusters of young men, many in skullcaps and kaffiyehs, drifted in and out of Wheeler, but women and men entered and exited through separate doors marked “BROTHERS ENTRANCE” and “SISTERS ENTRANCE.” Practically no intergender socializing was evident, nor bare female arms or legs.
That afternoon’s program in Wheeler Auditorium was called “Liberation Struggles, Past and Present.” The auditorium was packed. Women filled the right-hand tier of seats, men the left. The front half of the central tier was occupied entirely by men, the back by women. Roughly 95 percent appeared to be of Middle Eastern origin, with small scattered clusters of black attendees and only a tiny handful of white ones. Throughout the hall, the young faces glowed with contentment, the luminous radiance of devotion.
The emcee punctuated nearly every sentence with “Inshallah” — if Allah is willing. He announced that one of the orators in this program, Imam Jamil, would address the group via phone hookup because he was in jail. “He’s under lockdown,” the young emcee said, “but he was a slave of Allah before he was incarcerated and when he is released he will continue.”
From the men’s side came a chorus: “Allahu akbar” — God is great.
Abdel Malik Ali, an African-American imam affiliated with Oakland’s Masjid Al Islam mosque, took the podium and sent a nervous ripple through the crowd by immediately denouncing “the white man, who is the enemy.” Presently his monologue narrowed in on Daniel Pipes. Pipes, Ali declared, “can kiss our behind! Your days are numbered,” Ali said sharply to an imaginary Pipes and whoever supports him. “Your days are numbered in the apartheid state of Israel and in America.”
“Allahu akbar,” some chanted.
“The Zionist Jews done really messed up,” Ali said. “I’m talking about the Zionist Jews, not all Jews, not the Jews who are down with us — because not all Jews are Zionists. I have to say that, otherwise I’ll get called an anti-Semite.”
Soft laughter shimmered through the auditorium.
Ali said the conflict between Muslims and Zionists “is an opportunity, dawg,” because “we’re allowed to fight against oppression. It’s an act of worship. … In America, you’re mostly fighting with your tongue. But you should also learn how to fight with the sword.”
Ali’s remarks met with polite silence, punctuated by occasional choruses of “Allahu akbar.” No protesters were visible either inside or outside the hall.
“The enemies of Islam know that when we come back to power we’re gonna check ’em,” Ali said before leaving. “They’re gonna be checked.”
A few minutes later, from a jail in Georgia, Imam Jamil’s voice emerged through the speakers less than clearly. He was obviously a practiced speaker but the connection was weak. “The circumstances that Allah has placed upon me at this time have been placed on Muslims around the world,” he said. “Stay conscious and ask Allah to raise the Muslims and give us victory over the disbeliever.” Jamil urged his listeners to be devout.
Just as the question-and-answer period was about to start, a recorded female voice broke in and blared: “You have sixty seconds left on this call.”
After the imam hung up, notes passed to the stage revealed that many in the audience had no idea who Jamil was and wanted to know more. In response, the emcee invited another member up to the podium to explain. “Imam Jamil is the person who has the potential of uniting North America,” the speaker said. “Ten years from now, they’ll play the tape of this speech like they play tapes of Malcolm X now. You are privileged.” When he left the stage, attendees were still puzzled. “Well,” said one, “at least you could tell he was a very spiritual person.”
In the 1960s, Imam Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin was better known as the revolutionary leader H. Rap Brown. Long before most of the students in the auditorium were born, he was the justice minister of the Black Panther Party. Having converted to Islam in prison during the 1970s, he was convicted in 2002 of killing an Atlanta cop two years earlier. He maintains that he is the target of a government conspiracy.
On the next day, a Sunday, workshops and lectures focused on activism, modesty, and prayer. UC San Diego student Muslema Purmul started off that morning’s program. “Why do we feel so at peace here today?” she mused, beaming at the serene faces lining the hall. “Because the next life is the real life. The next life is home. … We are all part of the eternal destination.”
“Inshallah,” someone said.
Later that morning, Abdel Malik Ali returned to the stage. Jewelry flashed on his long delicate fingers as he outlined “the recipe for how we come to power: From an Islamic movement we graduate to an Islamic revolution, then to an Islamic state.”
“Allahu akbar,” came a chorus.
“We must be in power,” Ali continued coolly. He rounded up his lecture by promising that “when it’s all over, the only one standing is gonna be us.”
“We ain’t gonna lose. We must implement Islam as a totality,” in which “Allah controls every place — the home, the classroom, the science lab, the halls of Congress.”
The weekend concluded with an evening program called “Muslim Students in the Struggle.” A few officers and alumni took turns at the podium; one young man speculated about the day “when we are called upon to rock the West like it’s never been rocked before.” This is inevitable, he said. “Allah has promised the people that they will inherit this land.”
Another speaker urged self-control: “We need to struggle against calling people our enemies.” On the sisters’ side, attendees passed notes back and forth to new friends.
Hatem Bazian started his speech with a pragmatic gibe. Of all that had been taught throughout the weekend, he said, “you won’t remember any more than the three or four main points — unless you’re part of the ADL, which is recording everything we say.” Laughter erupted in the hall. The bespectacled polyglot with the brilliant smile went on to admonish his listeners to do well in school and in their professional lives, “to be the excellent person,” and earn “the A and the A plus.”
Muslema Purmul returned, invoking the rivalry between the Muslim Students Association and its Jewish counterparts: Hillel and the Union of Jewish Students.
“You’re afraid of the organizations that are trying to shut you down,” she said. “UJS and Hillel are trying to shut you down. But they’re the ones that are experiencing trouble on campus right now.”
“Allahu akbar,” came a chorus.
Abdel Malik Ali also returned one final time, prodding the young crowd to “work on building Islamic infrastructures in the USA now.” He allowed: “There will be some poop-butts who will not want to live under sharia law and will leave.
“We’re already winning,” he said. “Things are coming our way.”
He cited a Washington Post article in which Jewish leaders expressed worries “about a backlash against Jews for the Iraq war” and about the general public “blaming Jewish officials in the Bush administration for American casualties.” Again, the just-catch-me smile.
“Let the backlash begin.
“Neo-cons are all Zionist Jews,” he continued. He scanned the hall, wondering aloud whether Jewish infiltrators were among his listeners. If so, he had a message for them: “You made all the mistakes we wanted you to make. You went after Cynthia McKinney” — the outspoken African-American former Georgia congresswoman who was frequently cited as the most anti-Semitic member of Congress. “So now black folks don’t like you. … You’re walking into all the traps we want you to walk into. You hijacked American foreign policy.”
“They really blew it, y’all.”
Sooner or later, he mused, today’s Muslim college students will be the parents of Muslim children.
“And,” he cried, “they should be militants.”
Afterward, the auditorium cleared. Row upon row of attendees rose and brushed themselves off, cheek-kissing and back-slapping their goodbyes, exchanging e-mail addresses. They drifted in groups of two and three and four, tired but laughing and chattering, into a deserted plaza and back to their buses and hotel rooms and homes.
But despite all the enthusiastic cries of “Allahu akbar,” not all the attendees enjoyed Abdel Malik Ali’s speeches. In the aftermath, one member of the student group confessed to a non-Muslim attendee that it left him feeling shocked.
“As a Muslim,” he said, and his heart was in his voice, “I just want to apologize.”