Berkeley, California
Berkeley, CaliforniaiStock

In an opinion piece that appeared in the Daily Beast, the dean of University of California, Berkeley School of Law, Erwin Chemerinsky has insisted that the media's portrayal of a recent decision taken by a small minority of the Law School's student unions is "grossly misleading."

"At the beginning of the school year in late August, a student group at Berkeley Law, Law Students for Justice in Palestine (LSJP), asked other student groups to adopt a by-law condemning Israel. LSJP called for the student groups to pledge not to invite speakers that supported Israel’s “apartheid” policies, to support the Boycott, Divest, Sanction movement, and to participate in training about the plight of Palestinians," Chemerinsky writes.

"As the dean, I quickly responded with a letter to all student organizations strongly objecting to this," he continues. In his letter, he stressed that excluding any viewpoint from being expressed was "troubling," and noted that if the by-law was interpreted literally, he himself would be among those excluded, as he supports the existence of Israel.

"I followed this up with a message to the entire Law School community," he writes further, clarifying that "The First Amendment does not allow us to exclude any viewpoints," and that universities must be places where students and faculty alike are free to discuss all ideas.

"The issue quickly faded at the Law School," he stressed, with just nine out of over 100 student unions adopting the by-law, and not a single union on record as having excluded a speaker for being Jewish or holding certain views.

"At this stage, all some student groups have done is express their strong disagreement with Israel’s policies. That is their First Amendment right. I find their statement offensive, but they have the right to say it. To punish these student groups, or students, for their speech would clearly violate the Constitution."

Chemerinsky also notes that just last week, an Israeli Knesset member (Yossi Shain) spent a week on Berkeley's campus, and that the university is not a place where anti-Semitism is rife. "But this is not the story the media wants to tell," he adds. "It is frustrating and sad that their version has no relationship to reality.

"Freedom of speech, dissent, and debate is alive and well at Berkeley. And there is no “Jewish-Free Zone” at Berkeley Law or on the Berkeley campus. Period," he concludes.