Stifling Pro-Israel Views at UC Berkeley
By: Reut R. Cohen
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, May 01, 2009
John Moghtader, a senator in student government at UC Berkeley, has experienced the forced removal from student office due to a personal smear campaign against him that was launched by the campus’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and their supporters in student government. Moghtader, a previous senator with UC Berkeley’s Associated Students of the University of California (ASUC), the student government, is also the president of a student group known as Tikvah: Students for Israel (Tikvah SFI) that is devoted to Israel advocacy on campus. It is the only serious voice of opposition to a near constant drumbeat of pro-Palestinian Israel-bashing activism on the Berkeley campus.
On November 13, 2008, on an Eschelman Hall balcony overlooking a concert being held on LowerSproulPlaza by the Zionist Freedom Alliance, a brief physical altercation broke out between concertgoers and activists from Students for Justice in Palestine. The incident occurred after SJP students hung Palestinian flags at the Zionist event in violation of ASUC policy that says groups must have consent before they hang flags. Moghtader was in the area of the fight but was clearly uninvolved, according to both eyewitnesses and a video taken at the event. The videotape has been viewed by the District Attorney of Northern California and UC Berkeley’s student newspaper editorial board, but has not been released to the public because it may be used as evidence during a criminal court case.
According to eyewitnesses from both Tivkah SFI and the Zionist Freedom Alliance, Husam Zakharia, an SJP student, reportedly started the fight by punching a recent pro-Israel alumnus attending the concert in the right cheek. These eyewitness accounts plus the video which was seen by editorial board of the Berkeley paper and the ASUC attorney general, Michael Sinanian, led Mr. Sinanian to conclude that the recall against Moghtader was “based on lies.”
The SJP students, however, claimed that Moghtader hit two female members of their group, including a female student named Dina Omar. SJP members also claimed Moghtader made derogatory and racist comments — despite video and eyewitness evidence that suggests the senator’s involvement was nonexistent.
The SJP students involved in the alleged altercation were contacted for this article but did not respond to questions regarding their involvement and the potential lawsuit against Dina Omar.
These alleged false charges by Ms. Omar and other SJP students led to a recall election to remove Moghtader from office, an election which in times of great financial duress for the UC system, has cost the University of California $25,000.
Mr. Moghtader expressed his frustration and concern regarding what he says can only be characterized as a smear campaign against him.
“It’s been really difficult. This whole ordeal has lasted many months now. It’s been about five months, almost six months,” he told me. “It’s been really draining on me. I learned that standing up for Israel on a college campus doesn’t come without a price. For me, and my group, there was a lot of intimidation, bullying—things like that. Because I was a pro-Israel senator I feel that I had a target on my back. It has been very challenging.”
While John Moghtader was busy fending off false and very serious charges from the SJP, he had hoped to count on support from established Jewish organizations on campus. But rather than supporting John, Hillel, the largest campus Jewish organization, its affiliated students groups, and the Hillel director, Ken Kramarz, have echoed SJP's smear campaign against the former ASUC senator. Kramarz has done so in statements to media, to the Jewish community, and in a national conference call — without soliciting John's response to SJP's allegations. Hillel's left-leaning subgroup, Kesher Enoshi, condemned Moghtader in the daily school paper and supported the recall campaign against him.
Moghtader expressed his dismay that Jewish organizations did not come to his defense or even remain objective regarding the episode, noting that Hillel was quick to issue a statement condemning pro-Israel students while sympathizing with the SJP students.
“I’m not pleased at all with the way Hillel has handled the situation,” Moghtader explained. “Immediately following the incident on November 13 Hillel issued a statement condemning the mutual violence without investigating. It was the Jewish students that were attacked up there.”
The now-removed ASUC senator also pointed out that the school newspaper editorial board, who have been allowed to view video evidence, took his side and urged students to vote “no” on recalling him from his student government seat. “The school newspaper endorsed me flat out,” Moghtader says. “The school paper jumped to my defense while I was begging the Jewish organizations to help me out.”
Some have reasonably asked why the exonerating video was not released to the student body Moghtader explained that he was under strict advice from his attorney but that he discussed the fact that a video vindicating him existed. “I was under advisement not to release the video because it could be used in a libel case. Showing it in a public way would potentially jeopardize the case,” said Moghtader. “I knew that there was a video showing me standing off to the side during the altercation. I even said a few days after the fight in an op-ed that I had a video that proves me to be innocent. Every opportunity I got I said that I was innocent. I tried to make my case. I was honest, forthright.”.
Moghtader believes that the students who made the false charges against him ought to be held accountable for what they put him and the entire campus through, including the $25,000 of University of California money used to forcibly remove him from his student government seat. When a case was presented to the state District Attorney in Northern California, no charges were brought against John Moghtader or any other Jewish student.
The trumped up charges against John Moghtader are so rooted in fraudulent claims, say witnesses and supporters of the former senator, that Moghtader and his attorney feel they’ll be able to win a libel lawsuit against the SJP students who weaved a melodramatic story about Jewish students attacking so-called innocent Palestinian supporters.
Regardless of where one stands on the Israel-Arab conflict or any other political issue, it is clear that Moghtader did not do anything to warrant removal from office. The SJP organization and ASUC owe him and the entire campus an apology. Moghtader, who is by all accounts an innocent man, was forcibly removed from student office because his political views varied from the anti-Israel students at UC Berkeley who lied in order to stifle an opposing view.
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