Pro-Palestinian protesters at UC Berkeley force police evacuation of Jewish event

University says criminal investigation probing suspected battery and use of antisemitic slurs, among other allegations, after demonstrators break through doors and breach venue

A video shared by JCRC Bay Area showing Jewish students threatened, assaulted, and prevented from attending a speech by a Jewish speaker on campus at UC Berkeley, February 27, 2024. (Social media/X; Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Leaders of the University of California, Berkeley, have denounced a pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel protest against an event organized by Jewish students that forced police to evacuate attendees and a speaker from Israel for their safety after demonstrators broke through doors.

A criminal investigation has begun, the university announced Wednesday.

The incident Monday night “violated not only our rules, but also some of our most fundamental values,” Chancellor Carol Christ and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Benjamin Hermalin said in a statement to the university community.

Minutes before the event was to start, a crowd of about 200 protesters began to surround the building, Zellerbach Playhouse, Christ and Hermalin said in their statement.

“Doors were broken open and the protesters gained unauthorized entry to the building,” they said. “The event was canceled, and the building was evacuated to protect the speaker and members of the audience.”

University campuses have been a hotbed of protest activity surrounding the Israel-Hamas war, which began following the deadly Hamas-led October 7 attack on Israel, in which Palestinian terrorists killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took 253 hostages back to Gaza. In response, Israel launched a war on the terror group that the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says has killed over 29,000 Palestinians, an unverified figure that doesn’t differentiate between fighters and noncombatants.

Berkeley’s student newspaper, The Daily Californian, reported that the event was a lecture by Ran Bar-Yoshafat, an Israeli attorney and former member of the Israeli Defense Forces.

The newspaper reported that protesters chanted, “Long live the intifada,” “Hey hey, ho ho, the occupation has got to go,” and “Killers on campus.”

The campus group Bears for Palestine had posted on social media about the event, urging students to “shut it down.” Bears is a reference to Golden Bears, the name of the university’s sports teams. There was no immediate reply to an email seeking comment from the group on the criticism of the protest.

The event had been moved to Zellerbach because it was believed to be more secure than the original location and a team of university police had been sent there. But it wasn’t possible to ensure student safety and that the event could go forward “given the size of the crowd and the threat of violence,” the statement said.

UC Berkeley spokesperson Dan Mogulof said Wednesday that the university has opened a formal criminal investigation and has initiated its student code-of-conduct process.

“We’ve had four formal reports made to our police department,” Mogulof said. “We’ve opened that criminal investigation because we believe there should be consequences for the kind of behavior that we saw on Monday night.”

An allegation of battery along with antisemitic slurs is being investigated as a hate crime, Mogulof said. A second report alleges a victim was spit at and kicked. A third alleges battery, and the fourth alleges the victim was injured in a scuffle while attempting to hold a door closed. The injuries were described as minor.

“That’s what the investigation is about,” he said. “All of the video will be reviewed. Social media posts will be reviewed. Unfortunately, most of the protesters were masked.”

There were not sufficient police resources to make arrests at the scene, he said.

Christ and Hermalin said they respect the right to protest “as intrinsic to the values of democracy and an institution of higher education” but cannot ignore protests that interfere with the rights of others to hear and express their own perspectives.

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