« Specific Performance and the First Amendment | Main | The kids are (kind of) alright »

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Dean Erwin Chemerinsky Responds to Antisemitism

On Tuesday evening, April 9, Berkeley Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky attempted to host a dinner at his home for graduating students. Sadly, the celebratory event was disrupted by a student with a megaphone -- reported by the Washington Free Beacon to be the head of Berkeley Law Students for Justice in Palestine -- representing a group that had earlier proclaimed "No dinner with Zionist Chem while Gaza starves." The student refused to leave or stop the disruption when requested. 

Erwin is an old friend, and I am deeply sympathetic to his situation, especially because I am a Berkeley Law alumnus. In the past, he has supported Jewish students at Berkeley knowing that it would be unpopular in some quarters, while adhering to his nearly absolutist view of free speech.

His statement below, posted on the Berkeley Law website, describes the events is sorrowful detail.

Statement from Dean Erwin Chemerinsky

April 10, 2024

I write this with profound sadness. Since I became a dean, my wife and I have invited the first-year students to our home for dinner. We were asked this year by the presidents of the third year class to have the graduating students over for dinner because they began in Fall 2021 when COVID prevented us from having dinners for them. We were delighted to oblige and designated three nights – April 9, 10, 11 – that graduating students could choose among. I never imagined that something that we do to help our community would become ugly and divisive.

Last week, there was an awful poster, on social media and bulletin boards in the law school building, of a caricature of me holding a bloody knife and fork, with the words in large letters, “No dinner with Zionist Chem while Gaza starves.” I never thought I would see such blatant antisemitism, with an image that invokes the horrible antisemitic trope of blood libel and that attacks me for no apparent reason other than I am Jewish. Although many complained to me about the posters and how it deeply offended them, I felt that though deeply offensive, they were speech protected by the First Amendment. But I was upset that those in our community had to see this disturbing, antisemitic poster around the law school.

The students responsible for this had the leaders of our student government tell me that if we did not cancel the dinners, they would protest at them. I was sad to hear this, but made clear that we would not be intimidated and that the dinners would go forward for those who wanted to attend. I said that I assumed that any protest would not be disruptive.

On April 9, about 60 students came to our home for the dinner. All had registered in advance. All came into our backyard and were seated at tables for dinner. While guests were eating, a woman stood up with a microphone, stood on the top step in the yard, and began a speech, including about the plight of the Palestinians. My wife and I immediately approached her and asked her to stop and leave. The woman continued. When she continued, there was an attempt to take away her microphone. Repeatedly, we said to her that you are a guest in our home, please stop and leave. About 10 students were clearly with her and ultimately left as a group.

The dinner, which was meant to celebrate graduating students, was obviously disrupted and disturbed. I am enormously sad that we have students who are so rude as to come into my home, in my backyard, and use this social occasion for their political agenda.

The dinners will go forward on Wednesday and Thursday. I hope that there will be no disruptions; my home is not a forum for free speech. But we will have security present. Any student who disrupts will be reported to student conduct and a violation of the student conduct code is reported to the Bar.

I have spent my career staunchly defending freedom of speech. I have spent my years as dean trying hard to create a warm, inclusive community. I am deeply saddened by these events and take solace that it is just a small number of our students who would behave in such a clearly inappropriate manner.


Dean and Jesse H. Choper Distinguished Professor of Law
University of California, Berkeley School of Law

Let me just expand a bit on the antisemitic nature of the poster and disruption. As Erwin explained, the vicious image of Jews as blood-drinkers dates back to at least Medieval times, and has been used as an excuse for pogroms and expulsions. There is no question that the poster was aimed at Erwin because he is Jewish, as there was no other reason to target him. Blaming all Jews for the real or perceived wrongdoing of others is likewise a classic example of antisemitism. Erwin has had nothing to do with the Gaza war. He has opposed the Netanyahu government and called for Palestinian rights (as have I) for many decades. But he is visibly and proudly Jewish, which appears to have been reason enough to violate his home.

The poster is after the jump:

Posted by Steve Lubet on April 10, 2024 at 06:24 PM | Permalink


The comments to this entry are closed.