Uc Berkeley Officials Denounce Protest That Forced Police To Evacuate Jewish Event For Safety

FILE - Students make their way through Sproul Plaza on the University of California, Berkeley, campus Tuesday, March 29, 2022, in Berkeley, Calif. Leaders of the University of California, Berkeley, denounced a protest incited Monday, Feb. 26, 2024, against an event organized by Jewish students that forced police to evacuate attendees and a speaker from Israel for their safety. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)
FILE - Students make their way through Sproul Plaza on the University of California, Berkeley, campus Tuesday, March 29, 2022, in Berkeley, Calif. Leaders of the University of California, Berkeley, denounced a protest incited Monday, Feb. 26, 2024, against an event organized by Jewish students that forced police to evacuate attendees and a speaker from Israel for their safety. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)

Leaders of the University of California, Berkeley, have denounced a protest against an event organized by Jewish students that forced police to evacuate attendees and a speaker from Israel for their safety after demonstrators broke through doors.

A criminal investigation has begun, the university announced Wednesday.

The incident Monday night “violated not only our rules, but also some of our most fundamental values,” Chancellor Carol Christ and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Benjamin Hermalin said in a statement to the university community.

Minutes before the event was to start, a crowd of about 200 protesters began to surround the building, Zellerbach Playhouse, Christ and Hermalin said in their statement.

“Doors were broken open and the protesters gained unauthorized entry to the building,” they said. “The event was canceled, and the building was evacuated to protect the speaker and members of the audience.”

University campuses have been a hotbed of protest activity surrounding the Israel-Hamas war, which began following Hamas' deadly Oct. 7 attack on Israel. Israel's responding assault on Gaza has killed 29,000 Palestinians, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

Berkeley's student newspaper, The Daily Californian, reported that the event was a lecture by Ran Bar-Yoshafat, an Israeli attorney and former member of the Israeli Defense Force.

The newspaper reported that protesters changed “Long live the intifada,” “Hey hey, ho ho, the occupation has got to go” and “Killers on campus.”

The campus group Bears for Palestine had posted on social media about the event, urging students to “shut it down.” Bears is a reference to Golden Bears, the name of the university's sports teams. There was no immediate reply to an email seeking comment from the group on the criticism of the protest.

The event had been moved to Zellerbach because it was believed to be more secure than the original location and a team of university police had been sent there. But it wasn't possible to ensure student safety and that the event could go forward "given the size of the crowd and the threat of violence," the statement said.

UC Berkeley spokesperson Dan Mogulof said Wednesday that the university has opened a formal criminal investigation and has initiated its student code-of-conduct process.

“We've had four formal reports made to our police department,” Mogulof said. “We've opened that criminal investigation because we believe there should be consequences for the kind of behavior that we saw on Monday night.”

An allegation of battery along with antisemitic slurs is being investigated as a hate crime, Mogulof said. A second report alleges a victim was spit at and kicked. A third alleges battery, and the fourth alleges the victim was injured in a scuffle while attempting to hold a door closed. The injuries were described as minor.

None of the alleged assailants have been identified, Mogulof said.

“That's what the investigation is about," he said. "All of the video will be reviewed. Social media posts will be reviewed. Unfortunately, most of the protesters were masked.”

There were not sufficient police resources to make arrests at the scene, he said.

Christ and Hermalin said they respect the right to protest “as intrinsic to the values of democracy and an institution of higher education” but cannot ignore protests that interfere with the rights of others to hear and express their own perspectives.