Bay Area groups feeling Islamophobia, antisemitism as tensions run high

Tensions are high between Jewish and Muslim groups in the Bay Area, illustrated by an emotionally charged City Council meeting in Richmond on Tuesday evening and another student walk-out, this time on UC Berkeley’s campus. 

At UC Berkeley’s Sproul Plaza, students could be heard chanting "From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!" on Wednesday afternoon as part of a national walkout at colleges including six Bay Area schools.

The pro-Palestinian rally turned violent on Wednesday. University police reported an attempted armed robbery after someone at the rally tried to grab a backpack, a flag, and a metal water bottle from a demonstrator, eventually swinging it at the victim. 

Police reported the victim did not need additional medical assistance, but the suspect was not found. 

Students flooded the plaza around noon, shouting, "Occupation no more!" Their demonstration demanded the US stop supplying arms to the Israeli military and requesting more humanitarian aid for the people of Gaza.

Dr. Hatem Bazian, a UC Berkeley professor in Middle Eastern studies, spoke at the assembly alongside students. He said pro-Palestinians on campus have been silenced. "When acts of genocide are being committed, silence is an act of complicity."

He also said many students have been doxed for their beliefs, with recent accusations of a truck driving through campus naming pro-Palestinian students and calling them antisemitic. 

"If Israel wants to fight an armed militant group, they are welcome to do so. International law provides them with that possibility, but what is taking place is targeting civilians intentionally, deliberately, and instrumentalizing the conditions of people as a way to drive a political goal and outcome. Under International law, that is genocide," said Dr. Bazian, who wanted to provide his students a space to openly voice their frustrations.

"We are very scared for our safety. Even people who are speaking up right now are doing so knowing they could be targeted as a result," said event organizer and graduate student Haleema Bharoocha.

When Bharoocha was asked whether the protest was in alignment with Hamas, she responded, "Why should our support for Palestinian human rights have to do with our condemnation of Hamas, or condemnation with what they have done?"

MORE: Israel launches 400 strikes across Gaza, where health officials say hundreds of Palestinians killed

"When you look at Palestine, they don’t actually have their own military," she continued. "Naturally when you have imprisoned 2 million people in the largest open-air prison in the world – in the most densely populated area in the world, naturally you have a resistance group to fight back. It’s not like Hamas came on October 7th and said we’re firing the first shot."

Bharoocha said she does not support harming civilians but does not believe this began on October 7. "This event did not happen in a vacuum. There’s been 75 years of occupation, millions of people have been displaced, 10,000 political prisoners held by Israel without trial and being tortured in prisons right now."

"There are lots and lots of Jews around the country who do not appreciate our name being used to justify a genocide," said pro-Palestinian Jewish student Iris Rosenblum-Sellers, who argued this is a humanitarian issue.

A small group of Jewish students gathered in counter protest, stating they also don’t feel safe.

"Last week, one of my own friends who’s visibly Jewish and wears a kippah was attacked on this very campus right here on Sproul, so it is antisemitism," said Jewish student Vida Keyvanfar. "I just don’t think this is appropriate to have on a college campus."

"I personally am not here to counter protest, I think the experiences of innocent Palestinian people is also extremely saddening," she added.

"Both islamophobia and antisemitism are a public safety crisis right now," said Tyler Gregory, CEO of the Jewish Community Relations Council Bay Area.

Wednesday’s walkout follows the contentious pro-Palestinian resolution in Richmond, passing 5 to 1 at the City Council meeting on Tuesday evening after several amendments were made to the original language, which included the controversial claim that Palestinians are "currently facing a campaign of ethnic cleansing and collective punishment by the state of Israel."

The heated six-hour meeting was kept at peace with the help of police and fire. 

"I reject the notion that speaking out against the actions of Israel’s military and right-wing government is antisemitic. We should never stay silent on the oppression of any group," said Mayor Eduardo Rodriguez at the meeting. "The Palestinian people are currently dealing with what the United Nations calls war crimes by the state of Israel."

A new resolution states in part, "the City of Richmond stands in solidarity with the Palestinian people of Gaza… opposing existing and future military support for Israel… and supporting an end to Israeli apartheid and occupation."

"We’re hearing from Jewish community members there that they don’t feel safe living in Richmond anymore," said Gregory.

Gregory said they’re having private meetings with Muslim leaders to come up with peaceful solutions to the local divide. He also told KTVU the organization mobilized a letter for Jews against islamophobia which got support across the country.

The resolution in Richmond also states the city "mourns loss of all life on both sides from October 7th and the present and also throughout the decades of displacement, occupation, oppression, and blockade endured in Gaza and the West Bank." 

It also states, "the City of Richmond vows to combat antisemitism and ethno-nationalism in all its forms."

The entire resolution can be found on the city’s website

UC Police is investigating the robbery at Sproul Plaza and is asking anyone with information to call 510-642-6760.