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UC Berkeley police begin criminal probe of anti-Israel protest that turned violent

Campus police are investigating two incidents of alleged battery as part of a the probe

This article originally appeared in J. The Jewish News of Northern California.

UC Berkeley’s police department has launched a criminal investigation into Monday night’s violent protest by anti-Israel demonstrators who shattered a glass door and assaulted Jewish students in a successful effort to stop an Israeli speaker.

University spokesperson Dan Mogulof confirmed the criminal investigation to J. on Wednesday. He noted that campus police are looking into allegations of two incidents of battery, one injury caused by protesters forcing open a door at Zellerbach Playhouse and one hate incident with “antisemitic expression.”

The police department’s Feb. 26 crime log during the time of the protest at Zellerbach listed misdemeanors including trespassing, riot, battery on a peace officer/emergency personnel, battery on a person, and obstructing or resisting an officer or emergency med tech. It also cited two injuries and felony vandalism.

However, campus police crime logs do not constitute official charges, which would be filed by the district attorney’s office.

“There should be consequences for those that violated the law,” Mogulof said.

A rough night

The event was a talk by Ran Bar-Yoshafat, an Israeli attorney and a reserve officer in the Israel Defense Forces who was deployed in Gaza following the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre. He was invited to campus by pro-Israel student clubs to discuss international law, rules of wartime conduct and the protection of civilians amid the Israel-Hamas war.

Plywood covers a door and window at Zellerbach Playhouse on the UC Berkeley campus on Tuesday following a raucous protest by pro-Palestinian protesters the previous night. Photo by Aaron Levy-Wolins/J.

Anti-Zionist group Bears for Palestine, the Cal affiliate of Students for Justice in Palestine, called for a protest to “shut it down,” leading to a situation in which up to 200 protesters showed up outside the event and began chanting and banging on the windows and doors.

The event was canceled a short time later and police escorted Bar-Yoshafat and attendees out of the venue through an underground tunnel as protesters broke into the building.

“I am profoundly shocked by the violent and hateful actions that led to the cancellation of a critical dialogue on the Israel-Hamas conflict at UC Berkeley,” Bar-Yoshafat said in a statement sent to J. on Wednesday. “It is utterly unacceptable for an academic institution, which should promote free expression and debate, to become a host of intimidation and Jew hate.”

Mogulof said the police investigation will take time. Any criminal charges would be handled by the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office.

“We will seek consequences for any lawbreakers,” Mogulof said. “As per the chancellor’s instructions, we will now be turning our attention to doing what we must so that nothing like Monday night ever happens again.”

The university is urging witnesses to come forward, Mogulof said, but he acknowledged that identifying alleged perpetrators will be difficult because so many protesters wore masks.

“Every single bit of video material we have is being reviewed,” he said.

Part of the UC Berkeley police log of incidents at Zellerbach Playhouse on Feb. 26. Photo by screenshot

Cal critiqued

The California Legislative Jewish Caucus, a group of Jewish state legislators and their allies, condemned Monday night’s incident and called on the school “to ensure that those who participated in acts of hate and violence are held accountable and to ensure that Jewish students — like students of all faiths, backgrounds, and orientations — are safe and welcome on campus.”

The caucus, co-chaired by state Sen. Scott Wiener, was not satisfied by the statement issued Tuesday by UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ and Provost Benjamin Hermalin that described “their deep remorse and sympathy to those students and members of the public who were in the building, fearing for their safety.”

The university’s statement mentioned that the speaker came from Israel but did not include the words “Palestinian” or “Jewish.”

“We also were disappointed to see that the statements by campus leadership responding to these incidents failed to mention that it was Jewish students and organizations that were targeted,” the caucus statement said.

Berkeley Hillel offered mental health counseling to students who need it following the incident.

“Many of our students are hurt and frightened,” Berkeley Hillel said in a statement.

Danielle Sobkin, co-president of Bears for Israel, one of the campus groups that organized the disrupted talk, said the club plans to continue to bring speakers to campus, in spite of what happened.

“We’re just going along with our plan,” she said.

But students are rattled, she added, especially because protesters filmed them. She, too, was dissatisfied with Christ and Hermalin’s statement and called it a “fail on the part of the university.”

Daniel Solomon, a history grad student who was among the attendees evacuated from Zellerbach, said he was appalled at the protesters’ behavior. But he said it wouldn’t stop him from attending similar talks in the future. That would be giving in to protesters who show up to “trample others’ rights,” he said.

“I find this intolerable, and that’s why I’ll be at the next event,” Solomon said.

Earlier Monday, before the protest, the pro-Israel organization StandWithUs had sent an open letter to the UC Board of Regents expressing concern about the treatment of Jewish and Israeli students on UC campuses.

“StandWithUs has received voluminous requests for legal help with incidents involving physical assaults, criminal threats, discrimination, and harassment against Jewish and Israeli students,” the letter stated. “University administrators have ignored or excused such bigotry under various pretexts, including a distorted interpretation of the First Amendment that misidentifies such hateful conduct as ‘political speech.’”

Among the list of requests to the regents is to “hold accountable demonstrators who engage in unlawful activity … by zealously prosecuting such crimes and enforcing relevant campus policies.”

StandWithUs asked the regents to add an agenda item to their March 19-21 meeting to “include specific guidance and instruction to UC leadership on how to address campus antisemitism.”

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