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Berkeley Intifada

As students embrace the Palestinian cause, UC Berkeley has lost whatever reputation it may once have had for tolerance.

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On the day after September 11, Micki Weinberg walked to the UC Berkeley campus still in shock. At the entrance to campus, facing Telegraph Avenue, huge sheets of blank paper were spread out as an impromptu memorial on which students, faculty, and other passersby were invited to write comments. Glad to have found such a forum, Weinberg scanned the inscriptions. Then he saw one, large and clear, that stopped him dead in his tracks:

"It's the Jews, stupid."

The slender Weinberg, a year younger than most freshmen, had only just arrived at Cal from Beverly Hills, where he had been president of his high school's Shalom Club. As a young teenager, he had savored heady stories of how Mario Savio and his comrades in the Free Speech Movement danced the hora and sang "Hava Nagila" at sit-ins and peace rallies forty years ago. The son of left-wing, Jewish intellectuals, Weinberg viewed himself as one too, having spent the summer before his senior year of high school in Myanmar, cataloguing the archives of Rangoon's disintegrating and depopulated Jewish synagogue. "That's why I came to Berkeley -- because of its strong romantic aura of the Free Speech Movement and Mario Savio," he recalls. "Then I got here and discovered that that light seems to have been extinguished. You have this vitriol. You feel it everywhere. Berkeley is now the epicenter of real hatred."

Almost three years later, Weinberg graduates this month as a student whose days at Cal were marked by what he calls "pinnacles of horror," in the pinched tone of a man betrayed. He remembers pro-Palestinian protesters insisting that Israeli border crossings are as bad as Nazi death camps. He remembers the glass front door of Berkeley's Hillel building -- where he attends Friday night services -- shattered by a cinderblock, with the message FUCK JEWS scrawled nearby. He remembers the spray-painted swastikas discovered one Monday morning last September on the walls of four lecture rooms in LeConte Hall accompanied by the chilling bilingual message, "Die, Juden. "

In recent years the international press has documented the resurgence of anti-Semitism around the world. Jewish schoolkids have been attacked by epithet-shouting gangs in Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, France, and Brazil. Synagogues have been destroyed in Marseille and Istanbul; a Jewish school was firebombed this spring in Montreal; "Death to the Jews" was shouted through bullhorns outside a temple in South Africa. AP ran photos last month of a Jewish graveyard in eastern France where a hundred tombstones had been spray-painted with blood-red swastikas and the Nazi slogan Juden Raus: "Jews out." The Chicago Sun-Times and the British Guardian report that a ubiquitous chant at European soccer matches -- leveled at London and Rotterdam teams perceived as having Jewish roots -- is "Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas."

Such anti-Semitism has always seemed the sinister province of fascists and neo-Nazis, Spanish Inquisitors and tattooed skinheads. How topsy-turvy, then, to discover that some of the most virulent anti-Semitism in America today seethes amid the multicultural ferment of American college campuses. And at UC Berkeley, which owes as much of its allure to radical rhetoric as to academic excellence, it thrives.

"Anti-Semitism is not part of the average Berkeley student's thinking, but it exists in certain departments," said theater arts professor Mel Gordon, who was involved in an altercation with student supporters of Palestine in 2001. "It's an obnoxious Berkeley tradition, bringing political agendas into the classroom. And since Berkeley always wants everything in the world to be about Berkeley, Berkeley wants the Israel-Palestine conflict to be about Berkeley."

Student Daniel Frankenstein recalls being heckled and called a "conservative Zionist bastard" when he ran for student-body president last year. "One girl working on my campaign was followed around by someone who kept asking her, 'Are you a Jewgirl? Frankenstein's a Jew, so isn't everyone who's working for him a Jew?'" he said. Incidents such as these have convinced Frankenstein, who is graduating this month and taking a government job in Washington, DC, that "it is really socially acceptable to be anti-Semitic on the Berkeley campus."

A milder but more instructive glimpse of the hatreds that inflame Cal was on display February 10, the day Daniel Pipes lectured at UC Berkeley's Pimentel Hall. Pipes runs a project called Campus Watch, which through its Web site, CampusWatch.org, monitors Middle Eastern Studies departments at American schools, including Cal. The site keeps dossiers on instructors it believes are biased against the United States, and Pipes writes a steady stream of articles with intentionally provocative headlines such as "When Osama Bin Laden Becomes PC" and "The Muslims Are Coming! The Muslims Are Coming!"

Berkeley Hillel, the Jewish student organization that sponsored the event, had printed fliers calling Pipes "a member of the presidentially appointed US Institute for Peace and a prize-winning columnist." His detractors called him something else entirely. "Racist Daniel Pipes to speak at UC Berkeley," ran an announcement at Indybay.org the day of the lecture, urging readers to protest this visit by a "notable bigot and neo-McCarthyist."

Outside the hall where Pipes was to speak, you could cut the tension with a knife. Protesters had assembled early: young women wearing the hijab; young men clad in yarmulkes or Muslim skullcaps; and, of course, plenty of Cal sweatshirts. One protester hoisted a sign reading, "Israel: Born of British colonialism. Created through Zionist terrorism. Supported by Western imperialism. Sustained by Israeli militarism." Another man circulated silently, bearing a small sign that read, "Another Jew opposed to Daniel Pipes." Female voices ululated.

One flier making the rounds declared, "The neoconservatives and the Jewish Lobby ... planned the Iraq wars. ... Most of the US media ... are Jewish owned." Meanwhile, the largest sign said, "I Want You! to DIE for Israel. Israel sings: 'Onward christian soldiers.'" On the reverse side, in an attempted riff on "Pax Americana," the sign said, "I WANT YOU TO KILL FOR THE AMERA-ISRAELA POX!" Large rakish swastikas replaced the letter "s" in "Israel" on both sides of the sign. The sign-bearer's Uncle Sam hat was emblazoned with another swastika.

"So what exactly does Daniel Pipes represent to you?" one young protester demanded of a middle-aged man whose point of view she surmised by his refusal to accept a pamphlet. "Are you proud of his racism?"

Two male students, like college guys anywhere, eyed a group of young women whose hair was hidden under the hijab, their blue-jeaned legs and excited voices shivery in the cold. "I wonder how all these women who are supporting the Arabs would feel about being clitorecticized," one of the guys murmured to his friend. By that, he meant the practice of clitoridectomy, which is followed in some traditional Islamic cultures.

Sophomore Sandra Tahani was one of the women wearing headscarves. "Daniel Pipes is trying to incite pure hatred and racism," she said with fire in her eyes. "He wants to shut down the Center for Middle Eastern Studies. I'm with Students for Justice in Palestine. I'm with the Muslim Students Association, too. I'm with everyone that stands for justice. I'm an American." She said her parents are Muslim, although her mother converted from Judaism. "Coming from a Jewish heritage -- she has relatives that died in the Holocaust -- my mom says the Holocaust is being used to justify the Israeli occupation of Palestine." Other young women in headscarves clustered around her, their eyes blazing too.

A hush fell over the crowd as four women protesters in black clothing slowly descended into the plaza. Balanced on the shoulders of each was an armchair-sized papier-mâché head complete with hijab and frozen expression of grief. The women's eyes peered through the gaping papier-mâché mouths. Forming a row, they faced the crowd with gloved hands upraised as if in supplication. A pink-faced man moved somberly from one to the next, symbolically draping limp rag dummies in the shape of dead babies over the waiting arms of each.

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