Monday, March 11, 2024

Jewish Protests at Berkeley

I wrote a few days back about goings-on at Berkeley regarding protests -- which turned destructive -- against an Israeli speaker and a general deterioration of the situation for Berkeley's Jewish community. A few other developments have occurred since then, both of which entail Jews becoming the protesters, rather than the protested.

First, my friend and former colleague Ron Hassner has begun a sit-in in his own office, refusing to leave until the Berkeley administration takes action regarding a series of demands he's made regarding how to address campus antisemitism. Second, a large group of Berkeley Jewish students marched on Sather Gate, where a different group of pro-Palestinian students had been blocking passage as part of their own protest (and reportedly have been haranguing Jewish students in the vicinity). Initially, the plan appeared to be to force a confrontation by attempting to pass through the gate; in the end, the Jewish marchers diverted around the gate, wading across a small creek before reemerging on the other side.

I've given a recap before of my own experience at Berkeley, but that was from several years ago and certainly times and circumstances have changed since then. So I won't comment on the actual state of affairs for Jews on campus -- I'm not on the ground, and people like Hassner are. I do think this is an interesting example of Jews adopting what I termed a "protest politic" -- seeking change via the medium of a protest (as opposed to, say, a board resolution, letter to the editor, or political hearings). I wrote in that post that while I personally am averse to protests (not on general political or tactical grounds; it's a temperamental preference), it does seem that acting via protest -- sit-ins, marches, or even disruption -- was a way of marking yourself as being of a particular political class on campus and so a way of being taken seriously.
At least on campuses, it seems that certain brands of protest have become the language through which communities communicate that they are part of the circle of progressive concern. We can identify an issue as a "progressive" one by reference to how its advocates perform their demands -- the medium rather than the message. If something is demanded through a sit-in or a march, that's an issue that's in the progressive pantheon. Something that is pressed through a Board of Trustees resolution, not so much.
Again, I don't comment on whether these protests are "good", either in their tactical efficacy or their underlying demands. But I do find the adoption of this particular medium, and its comparatively transgressive character, to be an interesting development, and so I wanted to flag it.

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