UC Berkeley School of Law has some eminent conservative alumni, among them Pete Wilson, former governor of California; Ed Meese, attorney general to Ronald Reagan; and Ted Olson, solicitor general to George W. Bush. It could boast of this fact but doesn’t do so often. The mural in the school’s main foyer features Thelton Henderson, Cruz Reynoso, and other, even less famous social-justice figures. Displays in the school’s hallways celebrate various left-wing causes and include something like a shrine to Justice Sonia Sotomayor. The men’s rooms are equipped with tampons. And this is just what’s visible in public. Berkeley is a place where, unless you’re righteously progressive, you watch what you say.

Dean Erwin Chemerinsky was shocked to discover this week that Berkeley Law is a bastion of progressive illiberalism. Here is proof, if ever you needed it, that a brilliant academic can lack common sense.

Every year, Chemerinsky—an affable and generous man, who is Jewish—has had new students to his house for dinner. Ahead of this year’s dinners, which were partly make-ups for those postponed during the pandemic in 2021, posters appeared in the aforementioned hallways. The group behind the posters, Berkeley Law Students for Justice in Palestine (LSJP)—“from the river to the sea,” they proclaim on their Instagram profile—denounced the dinners as “no more than PR events for Zionist admin to distract us from the genocide in Gaza.” They demanded that Chemerinsky be treated as a pariah until the university “divest[s] . . . from ALL TIES to the apartheid state of Israel.” 

The group brought its intentions home in the posters’ image. It displayed a cartoon of Chemerinsky, portrayed in classic anti-Semitic caricature and holding a bloody knife and fork, with the words “No Dinner With Zionist Chem While Gaza Starves!” Chemerinsky later said, “I never thought I would see such blatant antisemitism, with an image that invokes the horrible antisemitic trope of blood libel and that attacks me for no apparent reason other than I am Jewish.” (LSJP scrubbed the blood from the poster that now appears on its Instagram account.)

At the first of the dinners, with dozens of students seated in Chemerinsky’s backyard, Malak Afaneh, co‑president of LSJP, arose with a microphone and launched into a speech. The rest is captured on video. Chemerinsky politely asks Afaneh to leave. Having slept through her constitutional law course, apparently, Afaneh insists that she is legally entitled to address a captive audience at a private residence. (“The National Lawyers Guild has informed us this is our First Amendment right,” she says. She should find better representation.) Chemerinsky’s wife then attempts to grab the microphone and places her hand on Afaneh’s shoulder, and subsequently her arm. (Chemerinsky would later state that Afaneh “shoved” his wife, but this is not evident in the footage.) Afaneh promptly shifts to victim mode, lecturing Chemerinsky about his wife’s “assault” on a “Muslim Palestinian hijabi student,” and declaring that they’ll be hearing from her lawyers. Afaneh and several other students then left the premises.

Afaneh and her supporters have used the event as a launching pad for a cry-bullying campaign. The school’s pro-Palestine faculty group announced that it “stand[s] with Malak,” and “condemn[s] the violent and racist actions” of Chemerinsky and his wife. The LSJP, meantime, insisted that a “Palestinian Muslim” had suffered an unprovoked attack. The group published a truncated video of the confrontation, then accused Chemerinsky of engaging in a “pattern” of “disingenuity.” They claimed that he has “led the charge in suppressing Palestinian liberation work at the law school,” and called on him and his wife (a fellow law professor) to resign.

Chemerinsky said that he was “deeply saddened” by what took place. But what is he going to do about it? As the posters, the interrupted dinner, and the post-disruption spin show, Berkeley Law is beset by self-absorbed, belligerent activists. The school is also riddled with anti-Semitic student groups that allegedly ban “Zionist” speakers, or require leaders to attend a “Palestine 101” training session (held by the good folks at LSJP). Perhaps the school should reorient its admissions process to find people who—heaven forfend—just want to focus on obtaining a sound legal education? Chemerinsky, as dean, is uniquely well positioned to push things in that direction, but almost certainly won’t. On this front, in fact, he was last seen, caught by secret camera, explaining how to smuggle discriminatory standards into the school’s faculty hiring process.

During the racial unrest of 2020, the presidents of Berkeley Law’s student association urged their classmates to “reflect on the way you perpetuate White supremacy.” “Realize,” they said, “that not doing anything is a choice and it is the wrong one.” “White silence is incredibly powerful,” a high-level administrator concurred at the time. “It’s not neutral. It acts like a weapon.”

Chemerinsky himself got in on the routine, telling students that they had “an obligation” to “act.” They should not be satisfied, he said, quoting Martin Luther King, Jr., “until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” The same year, he acknowledged the “further work” the school had “to do to become more deeply anti-racist.”

What did Chemerinsky think this all meant? Papers? Vibes? The school, apparently, has been teaching students that it’s wrong simply to be a law student. It’s wrong not to make the rabid poster. It’s wrong not to make a spectacle of yourself at the dinner. It’s wrong not to lecture the prominent constitutional law scholar about your (nonexistent) constitutional right to berate him and his wife in their own backyard. It’s wrong not to engage in performative victimhood and seek to get your professors fired.

Among sane, rational people, Chemerinsky is widely admired. He doesn’t deserve this, except in the sense that he should have known better: this is, after all, what happens when revolutions eat their own.

Photo By Carlos Avila Gonzalez/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images


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