Statement on Return Event for Ran Bar-Yoshafat

Executive Committee Statement

We write as Berkeley faculty in response to the news that several student groups plan to host the Israeli speaker Ran Bar-Yoshafat for a return visit on Monday, March 18. Our group has no position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but we are committed to defending free expression on campus.

The last time Bar-Yoshafat visited Berkeley, for a student event on Monday, February 26, Berkeley’s student group Bears for Palestine issued a “CAMPUS WIDE CALL FOR ACTION” the day before the event and resolved that it would “not allow for this event to go on,” adding “SHUT IT DOWN.”

The following day, the group made good on its threat, leading a crowd of about 200 to Zellerbach Playhouse at 6:15pm (it is unknown how many in the crowd were students, since many of them wore masks and have not been identified). Reportedly, the crowd outside pounded on doors and windows, eventually breaking them, and harassed and injured students while trying to force entry into the building. At 6:45pm, the police canceled the event, evacuating the speaker and student attendees.

We thank Chancellor Christ and Provost Hermalin for their message to the Berkeley community after the event, which rightly stated that the incident violated “our most fundamental values” and vowed “to do everything possible to preclude a repeat of what happened.” We are grateful to have leaders who take seriously their professional and legal obligations to uphold free expression. We also thank Chief Pittman and the UC Police for their efforts to secure the event, and for keeping the speaker and attendees safe from the crowd outside.

However, we cannot overlook the serious questions raised by our university’s failure, despite its sincere efforts, to secure our students’ First Amendment rights on February 26. When an official student group can announce in advance its intention to forcibly silence others at a specific time and place, and the university is unable to stop it, our credibility as an institution of higher learning is jeopardized. If the March 18 event is violently shut down again, observers both on and off campus will justifiably wonder who is setting the de facto boundaries of debate at Berkeley, and what other speech is being chilled.

We recognize that the speaker and hosts are risking their physical safety to give our university a rare second chance to demonstrate that we possess the resources and resolve to put our ideals into practice. We urge our administration to dispel the specter of political violence that hangs over our campus by taking all necessary steps to ensure that the return event takes place peacefully and without disruption.

The Berkeley Initiative for Free Inquiry
Executive Committee