Why are the city manager and the mayor of Berkeley closing their eyes to powerful evidence of anti-Semitic bigotry and discrimination in city government?
Last January, the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) wrote to City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley after learning that Councilmember Cheryl Davila had dismissed a qualified Berkeley resident from the city’s Transportation Commission in November 2017. The dismissal followed the resident’s refusal to respond to Davila’s irrelevant questions about his views on the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement and the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Davila never denied that she raised Israel, “Palestine” and BDS in her meetings with him. Disturbingly, Davila had probed other individuals about Israel and divestment during their interviews for appointments to city commissions.
As city manager, Williams-Ridley is responsible for “the efficient administration of all the affairs of the City.” She is mandated “[t]o see that all laws and ordinances are duly enforced.” We thus urged her to fulfill her duties and investigate Davila’s actions because they potentially violated the Berkeley Municipal Code’s nondiscrimination provisions. The provisions expressly prohibit withholding appointments to any city government position by reason of one’s political opinions or affiliations.
Davila’s actions also opposed the aims of California’s anti-BDS law, enacted in 2016. After the law was signed, its author, Assemblyman Richard Bloom, stated that “the state of California sent a strong message that it does not tolerate discrimination, hate, or bigotry.”
In the ZOA’s letter to the city manager, we wrote that if Davila’s actions were unlawful or violated public policy, then she should be held accountable. The Berkeley resident who, by all reports, had ably served on the Transportation Commission should be offered a reappointment if he wanted it.
Williams-Ridley never responded to the ZOA’s letter. Neither did Mayor Jesse Arreguin, who was copied on the letter.
In April, we wrote directly to the mayor, asking whether and how the questions we had raised about Davila’s conduct had been addressed. Again, no response.
Recently, Davila’s actions prompted more concerns about who would be serving in city government positions. Davila nominated Hatem Bazian to serve as her emergency standby officer on the city council — someone with a long history of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic activity. Three Berkeley rabbis, from the Orthodox, Conservative and Reform movements, were among those in the community who objected to his nomination, writing to the mayor that “Prof. Bazian has a history of encouraging and personally engaging in speech which is offensive, uncivil and encourages demonization of others, including many citizens of Berkeley.”
The City Council has not voted on the nomination yet, but in the meantime, Davila has managed to use her authority to insert Bazian into city government anyway. She appointed him to — of all positions — the Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission.
Based on his record, Bazian, a lecturer at UC Berkeley who co-founded Zaytuna College, is no model for peace and justice. He openly supports BDS. This is a movement that promotes divisiveness and hostility, and hatred of Israel. Indeed, as its founders make clear, BDS’ goal is Israel’s destruction. In addition, Bazian has a history of promoting and expressing hostility toward Jews:
In 1994, a mural of Malcolm X — surrounded by dollar signs, Stars of David and skulls and crossbones — was painted on the student union building at San Francisco State University. Bazian organized and was a featured speaker at a press conference supporting the anti-Semitic mural.
In 2001, when he was a graduate student at UC Berkeley, Bazian co-founded Students for Justice in Palestine. In 2002, 79 members of his SJP group attempted to disrupt a Holocaust Remembrance Day event and were arrested. At a rally to protest the arrests, Bazian addressed the crowd and said, “Take a look at the type of names on the building around campus — Haas, Zellerbach — and decide who controls this university,” offensively promoting a common anti-Semitic trope about Jewish power and control.
On July 31, 2017, Bazian retweeted an image of an Orthodox Jewish man, smiling and raising his hands, with the words: “Mom look! I is chosen! I can now kill, rape, smuggle organs & steal the land of Palestinians *Yay* #Ashke-Nazi.”
Given Bazian’s many expressions of hatred toward Jews, Davila was wrong to appoint him to the Peace and Justice Commission. She was wrong to nominate him to be her standby replacement on the City Council. And she was wrong to use anyone’s views on Israel as a litmus test for serving the city.
So why are Mayor Arreguin and City Manager Williams-Ridley saying and doing nothing about all this? Why aren’t they making sure that city government appointees are people with unblemished records of fairness, tolerance and respect for others, instead of records filled with divisiveness, prejudice and hatred? Why aren’t the mayor and the city manager making sure that city government appointments are based on individuals’ qualifications to serve — not on their political opinions about Israel?
The people of Berkeley deserve answers to these questions. They also deserve — and should be demanding — leaders who take their legal and moral responsibilities seriously by rejecting and condemning bigotry and refusing to tolerate it in city government.