Column: What’s Israel Got to Do, Got to Do with Sexism and Homophobia?

Perhaps these students had not advanced far enough in law school to recognize that the murder of women and gays is, well, murder.

Otherwise, the Women of Berkeley Law would most certainly have rallied against the “honor killings” of women that ravage the Arab world, and the Queer Caucus would have risen up against the beheading of a gay Palestinian in the West Bank town of Hebron.

Instead, they are among nine student groups at the University of California’s Berkeley campus to sign a statement barring pro-Israel speakers from addressing gatherings at the UC Berkeley’s law school, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports.

The new controversy known as the “Jewish-free zones” flap is disturbing in many of the usual ways, but I found myself scratching my head when I spotted the names of these supporting organizations – not only the Queer Caucus and the Women of Berkeley Law but also the Berkeley Law Muslim Student Association and the Asian Pacific American Law Students Association.

To paraphrase the lyrics from Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” what’s Israel got to do, got to do with gay rights, feminism and prejudice against Asian-Americans?

Pro-Arab activists likely sold the same old story to these groups: While America, the Great Satan, oppresses gays, women and Asians, the Little Satan Israel oppresses the Palestinians.

The larger controversy emerged in August when the nine student organizations at the UC Berkeley law school signed a statement composed by the group Berkeley Law Students for Justice in Palestine, JTA reports.

The Jewish News of Northern California reports that, under the justification of “protecting the safety and welfare of Palestinian students, the statement pledges not to invite speakers that have expressed and continued to hold views…in support of Zionism, the apartheid state of Israel, and the occupation of Palestine,” according to JTA.

The statement also voiced support for the goals of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement targeting Israel.

Law school dean Erwin Chemerinsky, who is Jewish, swiftly condemned the statement and assured Jewish students that the law school maintains a welcoming environment for them. The Jewish Students Association board at the law school authored an August 27 statement that says the Palestine position “alienates many Jewish students from certain groups on campus.”

The “Jewish-free zones” phrase was injected into the debate when Berkeley Law alum Kenneth L. Marcus wrote an op-ed for the Los Angeles Jewish Journal last month in which he states, “It is now a century since Jewish-free zones first spread to the San Francisco Bay Area.”

Marcus, the 11th assistant U.S secretary of education for civil rights, compared the petition to 19th century signage in American cities with phrases like “No Jews, Dogs, or Consumptives,” and noted that the episode was a sign of “university spaces go(ing) as the Nazis’ infamous call, judenfrei Jewish free.”

Marcus is also founder and chairman of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights under Law.

Let us hope that law students who are gay, female and Asian signatories are outliers in their worlds. They have every reason to identify with Israel. Asians might consider themselves the “new Jews.”

That is what some African-Americans have labeled the Asians over the years. When Black residents moved into neighborhoods like North Philadelphia and West Philadelphia, Jewish merchants owned many of the stores since these communities were peopled by Jews and other whites. As whites moved further out to other neighborhoods and the suburbs, Jewish merchants ultimately retired and/or moved with the others.

Some Black residents noticed over the years that Asian-Americans are among those who ran stores in those neighborhoods, and some bigoted Africans called them the “new Jews.”

Asian-Americans are also challenging universities which employ policies to promote racial diversity that particularly benefits Black applicants. The diversity policies are viewed as blocking more Asian students from being admitted to top universities.

Pro-Arab advocates are fond of comparing America’s oppression of Black citizens to Israel’s oppression of Palestinians. All of this is garbage, of course, but how can Asians and Blacks be allies if one group is known as the “new Jews?” So why would “New Jews” law students…er, Asian law students…sign a petition that speaks for Palestinians and by extension Black Americans?

The Queer Caucus at Berkeley might be outraged upon learning that a 25-year-old gay Palestinian man was found beheaded in Hebron, in the West Bank, on Oct. 7. A suspect arrested by Palestinian police filmed the beheading and uploaded it to social media.

Astounding, the Queer Caucus might respond. Must be an isolated incident. It can only happen in Israel, not where the victim, Ahmad Abu Murkhiveh, is from.

Even harder to take in: Murkhiyeh was one of scores of gay Palestinians who lived in Israel to escape threats on his life because of his sexual orientation in the Palestinian territories. No, wait. It is Israel who abuses the Palestinians, who would never do such things to their own. Murkhiveh would occasionally return to the West Bank to visit family.

The episode was recounted by a New York Times columnist, Brett Stephens, who learned of Murkiveh’s death from Israeli media. He related two other accounts of gay Palestinians who were murdered, examples of a longstanding pattern there.

Women of Berkeley Law contributes support to a society that is notorious for its control of women, which encompasses murders known as “honor killings.” In the Middle East generally, a father killed his single daughter after she was impregnated – by him. A teenaged girl was killed by a relative because her father and grandfather recoiled at her decision to marry a man for whom they disapproved.

They even export the practice to America and Canada. A father in Texas killed both his daughters because they were dating non-Muslim boys. A similar incident occurred near Toronto.

Which raises the question, what’s Israel but a convenient scapegoat?

About Bruce Ticker

Bruce S. Ticker, who writes from Philadelphia, also blogs for The San Diego Jewish World and Smirking Chimp and previously for the suspended Philadelphia Jewish Voice. He was previously a reporter and copy editor for daily newspapers in eastern Pennsylvania.

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