Berkeley Chancellor Declined Invitation To Introduce Israeli Lawyer Whose Speech Last Month Was Derailed by Violent Protesters

Carol Christ (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
March 20, 2024

When violent student protesters prevented Israeli lawyer Ran Bar-Yoshafat from speaking at the University of California, Berkeley, last month, the school's chancellor, Carol Christ, decried the move as an "attack on the fundamental values of the university." So, when Jewish students invited Bar-Yoshafat to return to campus earlier this week, in a test of whether they could hold an event without major disruption, they invited Christ to introduce him. She declined. She also ignored the requests of Jewish student leaders to send another university representative to do so, according to the leader of a Jewish student group.

Bar-Yoshafar's return to Berkeley came three weeks after a scheduled speech last month was shut down by violent protesters who assaulted Jewish students and broke down the doors of the venue where he was set to discuss the Israel-Hamas war.

Berkeley senior Vida Keyvanfar, the co-president of the Jewish group Tikvah, told the Washington Free Beacon that Christ responded to the invitation with a one-line refusal and did not respond to a request that she provide a video greeting for the audience.

"It makes it more and more scary to stand up for what you believe in if someone who is supposed to be running our campus in the name of free speech is so afraid to conflate herself with us that she won't stand up for our rights," Keyvanfar said. "You can't pick and choose which rights to stand up for."

Christ's refusal came after she expressed shock and dismay over the disruption of Bar-Yoshafat's February visit and told Jewish students that Bar-Yoshafat should return. Berkeley failed to supply adequate security for Bar-Yoshafat's first appearance, and the university in turn blamed Jewish student groups for their alleged failure to provide enough advance notice.

Berkeley's assistant vice chancellor of communications, Dan Mogulof, said Christ "took the time to meet personally with the students, and reiterated her support for free speech and condemnation of antisemitism."

"When invited to attend the event, she informed the students that she already had commitments that night," Mogulof said in an email. "And yes, while she opted not to do a video greeting, the chancellor expressed her support for free speech by ensuring that the campus took the steps necessary to ensure that the event could proceed without disruption."

The free speech debate has been raging on Berkeley's campus for years alongside a spike in anti-Semitic activism. In 2022, nine student groups, including Women of Berkeley Law, the Queer Caucus, and the Womxn of Color Collective, signed on to a bylaw banning all speakers who support Israel. The bylaw was led by the law school's Students for Justice in Palestine chapter and included a commitment to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel.

Just last week, the student senate unanimously passed a resolution condemning Bar-Yoshafat's return and creating a work group to set "guidelines" for inviting speakers to campus.

Mogulof declined to comment on this bill, noting that resolutions "passed by student government do not represent the position or perspectives of the university."

Meanwhile, anti-Israel protesters have been harassing other students in a weeks-long "blockade" at Sather Gate, a central campus thoroughfare. Members of Congress in a letter this week to Berkeley leaders called out the protest, announcing a probe into the university's response to anti-Semitism.

The congressional letter noted incidents such as Dec. 1, 2023, graffiti targeting Jewish Berkeley professor Ron Hassner, saying that he is "lowkey a terrorist." Hassner is staging an office "sleep-in" to protest campus anti-Semitism, and one of his conditions for ending this demonstration is for the university to apologize to Bar-Yoshafat for the February riot.

Keyvanfar, the Berkeley senior leading Tikvah, said the lives of Jewish students at Berkeley have "shifted completely" since Oct. 7, and she herself is frequently filmed and stared at as she walks around campus. Someone told her, "I hope you get tortured so you know what the people in Gaza feel like."

"After Oct. 7 it's been this system of, you're guilty until proven innocent if you're Jewish," Keyvanfar said. "Everyone will assume that you are part of the problem unless you're wearing a keffiyeh and protesting for Gaza. You can't just say you condemn Israel at this point."