Chaos at Berkeley law school dean’s party: ‘My home not forum for free speech’ (2024)

A dinner party hosted by Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of UC Berkeley's School of Law, and his wife, to honour graduating law students turned into chaos when a Palestinian American student attempted to deliver a speech on the civilian casualties during the six-month-old Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.

The party was held in Chemerinsky's backyard garden of his house to recognise the law students' work and give them a chance to spend their time with the dean and his wife and law professor Catherine Fisk, The Los Angeles Times reported.


A viral video showed Malak Afaneh, a Palestinian American student, wearing a jean skirt, a white shirt with a black-and-white keffiyeh (headdress) around her neck and a red hijab (a scarf wrapped around the heads of Muslim women) getting up from her table and standing in front of the seated students.

Afaneh was among the 60 graduating law students who were invited to the dinner party, Chemerinsky said in a statement.


Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of @BerkeleyLaw, (huge Zionist) hosted a dinner for graduating law students. Chemerinsky’s wife & law professor, Catherine Fisk, assaulted a Palestinian Muslim hijabi law student— People's City Council - Los Angeles (@PplsCityCouncil) April 10, 2024

Afaneh greeted in Arabic and translated it into English as "peace and blessings upon you all". She said, "Tonight we are gathered here in the name of commemorating our final few weeks as law students. Tonight is also the last night of the holy month of Ramzan where millions of Muslims around the world fast."

However, Chemerinsky, a Jewish, and his wife interrupted her and told Afaneh to leave the house. Fisk, the dean's wife, tried to grab the student's microphone and told her "it was not your house and I want you to leave".

The video showed Chemerinsky telling the Palestinian American student to leave his house immediately after the words "gathered here". "This is my house. You are my guest. You’re my guest. Please leave my house," he said.

In the video, Fisk's arm was shown on Afaneh's right shoulder and at times appeared to touch her neck. Fisk was seen looking at another student and told her to ensure that Afaneh left their house.

Following this, an argument broke out between Afaneh, Chemerinsky, Fisk and the unnamed law student.

"You are not welcome," Fisk told Afaneh. Afaneh then said, "You can call the police," during which Fisk said, "I don’t prefer to."

"Forty thousand people are dying," Afaneh said at one point, while Fisk responded by saying, "I can't stop that." Afaneh was seen pulled up a few steps up a small set of stairs as Fisk tried to snatch the microphone from her.

In an interview, Afaneh alleged that Fisk assaulted her and her free speech rights were denied. "The aggression with which she ran at me when I said 'assalam alaykum'. She saw my hijab and keffiyeh, and that was a risk for her," she said.


The incident comes amid a spike in antisemitic incidents in US universities in the aftermath of the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.


In a statement, Chemerinsky recalled an incident where a poster on social media and bulletin boards in the law school building showed him holding a bloodied knife and fork as a mark of protest against Israel's actions in Gaza. He said he never expected such "blatant antisemitism".

"Last week, there was an awful poster, on social media and bulletin boards in the law school building, of a caricature of me holding a bloody knife and fork, with the words in large letters, 'No dinner with Zionist Chem while Gaza starves'. I never thought I would see such blatant antisemitism, with an image that invokes the horrible antisemitic trope of blood libel and that attacks me for no apparent reason other than I am Jewish," he said.

"Although many complained to me about the posters and how it deeply offended them, I felt that though deeply offensive, they were speech protected by the First Amendment. But I was upset that those in our community had to see this disturbing, antisemitic poster around the law school," he said.


Explaining the sequence of events, Chemerinsky said, "On April 9, about 60 students came to our home for the dinner. All had registered in advance. All came into our backyard and were seated at tables for dinner. While guests were eating, a woman stood up with a microphone, stood on the top step in the yard, and began a speech, including about the plight of the Palestinians."

"My wife and I immediately approached her and asked her to stop and leave. The woman continued. When she continued, there was an attempt to take away her microphone. Repeatedly, we said to her that you are a guest in our home, please stop and leave," he added.

Chemerinsky stated that "about 10 students were clearly with her and ultimately left as a group" and said the dinner party was "obvious disrupted and disturbed".

"I am enormously sad that we have students who are so rude as to come into my home, in my backyard, and use this social occasion for their political agenda," he said.


The dean said the dinner party would go as per schedule on Wednesday and Thursday despite the incident. He warned that action would be taken against students for their misconduct.

"The dinners will go forward on Wednesday and Thursday. I hope that there will be no disruptions; my home is not a forum for free speech. But we will have security present. Any student who disrupts will be reported to student conduct and a violation of the student conduct code is reported to the Bar," he said.

"I am deeply saddened by these events and take solace that it is just a small number of our students who would behave in such a clearly inappropriate manner," he further said.

Published By:

Prateek Chakraborty

Published On:

Apr 11, 2024

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Chaos at Berkeley law school dean’s party: ‘My home not forum for free speech’ (2024)


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