UC Berkeley offers counseling ahead of talk by Jewish conservative

Ben Shapiro calls school’s offer, in letter outlining heightened security measures over speech, ‘total insanity’

Jewish conservative commentator Ben Shapiro. (Screenshot)
Jewish conservative commentator Ben Shapiro. (Screenshot)

The University of California at Berkeley sent out a letter on Thursday informing students, faculty and staff that counseling services would be made available ahead of a talk at the campus next week by a conservative Jewish commentator.

In the letter, which outlines preparations being taken by the school ahead of Ben Shapiro’s visit, the executive vice chancellor and provost of the university Paul Alivisatos wrote that the school is “deeply concerned about the impact some speakers may have on individuals’ sense of safety and belonging” and therefore “offered and encouraged” faculty and staff to take advantage of the support services offered by the school.

“No one should be made to feel threatened or harassed simply because of who they are or for what they believe,” he wrote in the letter, which included links to services such as mental health counseling provided by the school.

The letter also detailed the extensive security measures being taken ahead of Shapiro’s talk after previous scheduled appearances at the university by conservative figures were met with violent protests.

A spokesperson for the school said that the provision of counseling services was not only for Shapiro’s appearance but also for “conservative students who have told us they are worried not about the speakers headed our way but, rather, by the possibility that members of the Antifa paramilitary group will return to the campus,” in reference to the far-left, anti-fascist movement.

The University of California, Berkeley. (Charlie Nguyen/ Flickr, CC BY 2.0/via JTA)

“I can assure you that if, in the future, we hear concerns in advance of ANY other speaker coming our way, we will issue a similar communication,” the spokesperson told Newsweek.

The spokesperson also said that while the school is not aware of anything Shapiro may say that would lead students to feel threatened, there are guest speakers who use “provocative rhetoric” in order to cause “discomfort and concern.”

In response, Shapiro tweeted that the offer of counseling services was “total insanity.”

Shapiro, a conservative commentator and Orthodox Jew who now is editor-in-chief of The Daily Wire, was previously an editor at Breitbart News, where he worked under former top aide to US President Donald Trump, Steve Bannon.

Despite working under Bannon, Shapiro was in the camp of anti-Trump Republicans and reportedly left Breitbart after the website did not support a reporter who alleged to have been assaulted by former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandoswki.

Earlier this year, UC Berkeley cancelled a talk at the school by the polarizing former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos out of safety concerns after protesters hurled smoke bombs, broke windows and started a bonfire, leading to widespread property damage.

Conservative pundit Ann Coulter later canceled a planned speech at the university amid concerns of the potential for violence.

Demonstrators clash during a free speech rally Sunday, Aug. 27, 2017, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Josh Edelson)

The city of Berkeley has been at the center of violent clashes since the beginning of the year between far-right and far-left demonstrators.

Last month, black-clad anarchists stormed into what had been a largely peaceful Berkeley protest against hate and attacked at least five people, including the leader of a politically conservative group who canceled an event a day earlier in San Francisco amid fears of violence.

The violence at the most recent Berkeley rally came shortly after the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last month in which a woman was killed after a man with alleged Nazi sympathies plowed a car into a group of people protesting the rally, which attracted neo-Nazis, white nationalists and white supremacists under a “Unite the Right” banner.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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