Israel-Palestine Tensions Erupt

Students and Faculty Worried About Safety After Israel, Palestine Supporters' Altercation

Photo: A supporter of Israel waves the nation's flag after a concert on Lower Sproul Plaza following a fight between pro-Israel and pro-Palestine supporters on Thursday night.
Justin Gonzaga/File
A supporter of Israel waves the nation's flag after a concert on Lower Sproul Plaza following a fight between pro-Israel and pro-Palestine supporters on Thursday night.

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Many on campus have raised concerns about violence between students stemming from cultural differences after an altercation between members of pro-Israel and pro-Palestine groups broke out in Eshleman Hall Thursday.

The altercation resulted in two Palestinian students and one Jewish alumnus being cited with battery Thursday night and comes just more than a month after what police say was a racially motivated crime involving students at Clark Kerr Campus.

Harry Le Grande, vice chancellor for student affairs, said it is the first time in his 27 years at UC Berkeley that he has seen such a high incidence of ideological and ethnic conflict.

"The kinds of things we've seen this semester have no place on a campus of this caliber," he said.

Le Grande said he believed national issues, including what he called the media's racial negativity in the presidential race and the economic crisis, aggravated tensions among students.

ASUC President Roxanne Winston agreed, adding that on-campus conflicts have reached a critical level.

"I feel like everything has its boiling point, and our campus has hit its boiling point," she said.

In response to Thursday's altercation, Winston's office, along with the ASUC executive vice president's office, will hold a community forum tonight to discuss student safety and allow students to express their concerns about the current campus climate.

"It's no longer an issue of Israel-Palestine, it's an issue of student safety," said ASUC Senator Kifah Shah, a member of Students for Justice in Palestine. "I'm really distressed, but at the same time, people are joining together in solidarity."

Leaders from both Zionist Freedom Alliance and Students for Justice in Palestine say they are worried about the escalation of the issue and are concerned about threats that have followed the altercation. They have communicated some of these threats to campus administration and police.

Shah wrote an e-mail to Students for Justice in Palestine members urging them to not take "retaliatory actions."

Daniel Rosen, president of the Jewish Student Union, said he did not feel the altercation would lead to further violence.

"I hope it's an isolated incident. There are on both sides ... intractable individuals," he said. "On the flip side, I've encountered a lot of people who want to reach out to the other side."

UCPD Assistant Chief Mitch Celaya said campus police will work with Dean of Students Jonathan Poullard to establish a dialogue between persons involved in the altercation.

Celaya was reluctant to say the fight and hate-related vandalism on and near campus earlier this semester are connected, although police had said they may have been last week.

"I can't say that they're linked to the graffiti. There are these two groups that are in conflict," he said. "I think this was an isolated incident."

In order to resolve such issues, Le Grande said students must take more responsibility for the safety of others, including those with whom they have ideological differences, and better work through those differences.

Many students added that while the event was troubling, the fight is not representative of broader ideological communities that may be implicated.

"I think that the vast majorities of Palestinian and Jewish students on campus are not reflective of what happened the other night," said senior Andy Kelley, former director of campus community in the ASUC's Office of the President.


Valerie Woolard covers student government. Contact her at [email protected]

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