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UC Berkeley Officials Denounce Protest That Forced Police to Evacuate Students at Jewish Event on Campus

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Students make their way through Sproul Plaza on the University of California, Berkeley, campus on Tuesday, March 29, 2022, in Berkeley. Leaders of the University of California, Berkeley, denounced a protest incited on Monday, Feb. 26, 2024, against an event organized by Jewish students that forced police to evacuate attendees and a speaker from Israel for their safety. (Eric Risberg/AP Photo)

Updated, 11 a.m. Thursday

Leaders of the UC Berkeley have denounced a 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 Hamas’ deadly Oct. 7 attack on Israel. Israel’s responding assault on Gaza has killed 29,000 Palestinians, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

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.


Student group Bears for Israel’s Vice President Sharon Knafelman told KQED on Wednesday the university should suspend Bears for Palestine.

“We didn’t expect two of our girls to get assaulted,” Knafelman said. “I didn’t expect my friend to get yelled at ‘Jew, you dirty Jew,’ and being spat at. And we didn’t expect them to be so angry and so vicious that they banged on the glass doors of Zellerbach playhouse to the point that they shattered.”

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.

Bears for Palestine, in a subsequent statement, said it was “unfortunate” that a window had been broken during the protest, but described it as an isolated incident out of step with the group’s “intent on prioritizing community safety and explicit instructions of non-violent protest.”

The group said that when the university was notified of plans for the protest, it “preemptively heavily militarized the event location with at least 20 armed UCPD officers, who used excessive force to barricade the building and barre pro-Palestinian entry.”

Bears for Palestine called Yoshafat “a dangerous war criminal” and accused the university of protecting him “at the cost of student safety.”

This was “an exemplary act of UC Berkeley upholding their values of deeply systemic anti-Palestinian racism that permeates within this institution,” the group 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.

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“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.

None of the alleged assailants have been identified, Mogulof said.

“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.

KQED’s Alex Emslie contributed reporting to this story.

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