Israel Liberation Week table
Israel Liberation Week tablephoto credit: Tikvah Student Org

Israel Liberation Week, which was organized last week by the Zionist Freedom Alliance (ZFA) at the University of California at Berkeley, ended violently Thursday night in an altercation between ZFA activists and anti-Israel students. The incident took place during a concert featuring Black, Jewish and Mexican hip hop artists promoting, according to the organizers, "freedom for the nation of Israel from Western pressure and influence."

As Zionist rapper Kosha Dillz was performing before a crowd of Berkeley students, members of the SJP (Students for Justice in Palestine) draped PLO flags from a balcony directly over the stage. When ZFA activist Gabe Weiner attempted to remove the flags, he was punched in the head, he says, by SJP member Husam Zakharia who was then beaten to the ground by Weiner and Yehuda De Sa.

Flyer advertising the ZFA event that turned violent
Flyer advertising the ZFA event that turned violent

Local ZFA member Yehuda told Israel National News: "Several other members of SJP, including female students, attempted to attack Weiner and De Sa but when three more ZFA activists entered the scene, the male members of SJP – who regularly use physical intimidation to silence Zionist students – hid behind female members of their group and refused to step forward and fight."

The local student press published the SJP version of events on Friday but would not quote any of the ZFA activists interviewed following the incident. UC Berkeley Dean of Students Jonathan Poullard has asked for student leaders from both groups to attend a meeting with one another but ZFA students have told Israel National News that they will make their attendance conditional on the University dropping its double standard when disciplining pro-Israel and anti-Israel student groups.

Meanwhile, the anti-Israel group is planning to file a petition to remove pro-Israel Student Senator John Moghtader from office, who tried to break up the fight.

Israel National News spoke with ZFA director Yehuda HaKohen, who said that although he had initially discouraged his activists from responding to the flags and would have preferred to have avoided the conflict altogether, he believed that ZFA’s victory in the physical altercation will show the anti-Israel activists that some Jews cannot be intimidated.

ZFA activists tabling at UC Berkeley the day after the violence
ZFA activists tabling at UC Berkeley the day after the violence

“In many ways it felt very similar to how things go down in Israel. Arabs attack Jews and then hide behind women. When Jews take defensive action, a biased media paints us as aggressors. The fact that our students at Berkeley had to experience this gives them a better appreciation for some of the challenges confronting us in our own country. Even though I wanted to avoid the altercation, I recognize the value in anti-Israel activists getting put in their place by the very students they so often try to bully into silence.”

HaKohen said that he generally tries to reach out to Muslim and Arab students when running programs on campuses but that the Muslim Student Association and SJP at Berkeley were completely unwilling to dialogue on any level.

“ZFA hosted Israel Liberation Week at Albany a week before and there, we were able to hold meaningful discussions with the MSA [Muslim Students Association]. We obviously didn’t agree on every issue but they recognized the Jewish people’s national rights. They acknowledged that there really is no distinct Palestinian Arab nation and that in order for Jews and Arabs to make peace we need to halt Western interference in the Middle East. They even gave me a head covering as a gift for my wife.”

Yehuda HaKohen (left) with the Muslim Students Assoc. president at SUNY Albany
Yehuda HaKohen (left) with the Muslim Students Assoc. president at SUNY Albany

“But at Berkeley there was no interest in dialogue at all. Instead, the SJP and their supporters tried to paint Israel as a Western power and accuse us of occupying another people’s homeland. They refused to listen to anything we had to say, which is unfortunate because our message is in no way anti-Arab. We simply demand that our rights to self-determination be respected. This was our first event at Berkeley. We expected the campus to be more hostile than others, but we didn’t expect the level of ignorance or close-mindedness that we encountered.

"Anti-Israel students at Berkeley can spit out the exact number of Arab villages they claim were destroyed during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War but they can’t name the countries that participated in that war. None of them knew that Jewish freedom fighters drove the British from our soil and none had even known that the British had oppressed us and tried to prevent the re-establishment of a Jewish state. None of them had even heard of the British White Paper.

"They knew nothing outside of their anti-Israel propaganda and they were completely unwilling to listen to a different view or acknowledge that Jews are an indigenous Middle Eastern people. But their entire cause is based on lies. Husam Zakharia [the SJP student who had initiated the violence] told me on Tuesday that his family lived in Gaza City until 1994 and then moved to California.

"What kind of Arabs left Gaza in 1994? Obviously people who were relatively fine living under Israel but had to flee from Gaza once Arafat took power. So now Husam, the phony revolutionary whose family most likely fled from Arafat, attacks Israel from the safety of California and tries to bully Jewish students into silence. ZFA might not have started the violence but we definitely finished it. I hope Husam and his crew think twice next time they want to get physical with any of our students.”