April 8, 2002
Civil Debate and Reasoned Discourse Must Prevail
By Robert M. Berdahl
University of California, Berkeley
We have all watched the unfolding events in the Middle East, the escalation of violence there, the lack of progress toward a peace settlement, with much concern and with profound sadness. Here on the Berkeley campus, many members of our community - members of our faculty and staff, and numerous students - have family and friends in the region and are deeply concerned for their well-being. They tell me of the effort to stay in contact with family, friends, and professional colleagues by telephone and email. This is an extremely difficult time for them and for all of us.
Clearly, for those who are directly affected by the conflict, and for many who see the conflict from the viewpoint of either the Palestinians or the Israelis, the violence arouses deeply felt passions and convictions. For most of the campus community, and for people everywhere, it is not about taking sides, but about finding a means to end the suffering on both sides. It is about hope for a solution that stops the fighting and brings peace and respect for the people caught in this terrible bloodshed.
As many of you know, on Tuesday Jewish students and students supporting Palestine have scheduled events. Jewish students will be holding a vigil in commemoration of the millions who perished in the Holocaust. Palestinian students will be having an event to commemorate those Palestinians who perished in a massacre in the war in 1948. Both groups have every right to participate in these activities.
Given the volatility of the issue, and the extreme passions that exist, however, I feel it is important to again remind our students and the public at large of the responsibility of the University in these circumstances. This University has a proud history in the defense of free expression. It is our responsibility to provide a neutral forum for individuals and groups to advocate their cause. It is our responsibility to provide an environment for civil discourse to take place that is safe for all participants. Most importantly, it is our responsibility to protect the rights of all members of the campus community to pursue their reason for being here - the work of teaching, learning, and research - uninterrupted by anyone.
We do not expect everyone to think alike. We expect people to disagree. We expect people to express their differences forcefully. While we can not prevent people from saying ugly and hurtful things, hateful statements, whether anti-Jewish or anti-Arab, are reprehensible. Further, let me make clear that we will not tolerate any action that threatens the physical well-being of anyone. Acts of violence or vandalism or personal attack have no place here and will be treated as criminal actions.
Let me close by calling upon everyone in our campus community and beyond to show that even in exceptionally troubling times - times when passions and emotions run deeply - the great value of a university is that it is a free and ordered space in which civil debate and reasoned discourse can prevail. I implore everyone to help us preserve this valuable principle.