Infringing on Free Speech <http://www.sfgate.com:80/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2000/12/10/MNL117679.DTL> Debate rages on canceled talk in Berkeley Charles Burress, Chronicle Staff Writer Sunday, December 10, 2000 Berkeley A hullabaloo over free speech has again cast an embarrassing cloud over Berkeley and challenged what many see as a core part of the city's soul. Most of the almost daily letters and columns in the news last week said leftist protesters, who forced the cancellation of a speech by former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have stained the city's famous badge of honor as birthplace of the Free Speech Movement. The uproar was sparked Nov. 28 when about 200 demonstrators, outraged by the recent killing of Palestinians by Israeli troops, broke through a police barricade and blocked the entrance to the Berkeley Community Theatre, where the hawkish Netanyahu was to speak. Some also taunted the 2,000 waiting ticket- holders who were trapped outside. A columnist for the New York Daily News chastised the "mob of demonstrators waving signs and screaming into bullhorns," and singled out a quote from protester Lori Berlin of Berkeley, who said, "I don't believe in free speech for war criminals." Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean declared in a column: "We must never, ever forget that Free Speech is for everyone, not just the politically correct." A letter in the Chronicle from Berkeley resident Dan Spitzer called the protesters "Berkeley brown shirts," a reference to Nazis. Even some members of the original Free Speech Movement joined the fray in a joint letter, calling infringement of speech "a serious violation of the principles for which thousands of students struggled in 1964." The uproar is fueled by a cumulative frustration over several years of leftist demonstrators, particularly at the UC campus, disrupting the speeches of those they view as criminal in one form or another. Targets have included Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, former United Nations Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick and several others. Berkeley is not the only city to see such disruptions, but it stands out because of the frequency of the disruptions and the pride it takes in its free speech heritage. The city could end up losing the chance to see a range of speakers "as prominent figures who visit Berkeley continue to be shouted down or intimidated by disruptive Berkeleyans," said an editorial in the Daily Californian, campus newspaper at the University of California. The organizer of the Netanyahu talk, Bruce Vogel, said he was considering pulling the acclaimed Marin-Peninsula-Berkeley Lecture Series out of Berkeley. The 11-year-old series, which added Berkeley as a venue only this year, has featured world leaders and other prominent figures. Another reason the debate is so heated is that the protest leaders are prominent members of the Berkeley community and the national left. A chief organizer was Barbara Lubin, former school board president and head of the Middle East Children's Alliance. A co-sponsor of the protest was the International Action Center, founded by former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark. The other co-sponsors were the Coalition of Jews for Justice in Israel and Palestine, the Arab American Anti- Discrimination Committee and A Jewish Voice for Peace. Many liberal Berkeley residents who criticize the protesters say they also disagree with, if not abhor, Netanyahubut that the right to protest does not include infringing on free speech. Lubin claimed an equal right to engage in "civil disobedience": "He (Netanyahu) has a right to free speech, but we have a right to try and stop him." The Free Speech Movement also used civil disobedience when students surrounded a police car in Sproul Plaza for 30 hours and staged a sit-in at Sproul Hall, but Michael Rossman, a Berkeley writer and member of the movement, called the Netanyahu protesters' definition of civil disobedience "illegitimate." "That's like saying any time you do anything against the law for principle, it's civil disobedience," he said. "That's too broad." And some who tried to get into the Netanyahu lecture said the protesters' tactics were more like uncivil disobedience. "Never in America have I waited, and been turned away from a paid lecture that was unofficially canceled by a mob shouting accusations at me," wrote ticket-holder Judy Norris. "Harassed, hassled, with accusations shouted at me and my friend, as though we were Uzi-carrying slayers of children, we, two quiet ladies from Moraga . . . wanted to hear both sides of the issue." Lubin said Netanyahu's views are easily heard: "If people are really interested in what Mr. Netanyahu has to say, they can open up the New York Times." Mayor Dean countered: "I don't want to hear what Netanyahu says through something else. I think people have a right to hear him directly, to see him, to experience him." A volunteer at the International Action Center headquarters in New York quoted a poem, "Don't Let the Fascists Speak," by the late African American lesbian writer Pat Parker of San Francisco: "What the Nazis say will cause people to hurt ME." But critics say the no-speech-for-fascists standard relies on the protesters' perception to define a fascist or war criminal and can easily lead to repression of the left or the right. "You are only defeating yourselves," UC senior Andrew Massey told the protesters in a Daily Cal column, "as one day you might find your contrary position makes the mob turn on you." Laurie Polster of Jews for Justice said the demonstration was "incredibly nonviolent" and that she had not gone there to stop the speech. But she added that freedom of speech is not absolute, noting that Germany, for example, bans public denial of the Holocaust and that most newspapers will not publish racist ads. Asked if there is a principle or standard to determine when it's legitimate for protesters to infringe on a public speech, Polster raised the Hitler test. "If Adolf Hitler were alive and came here to speak and preach hatred, should I not try to stop the event?" she asked. Mayor Dean's response: "The Supreme Court settled that issue in Skokie, Illinois." The court ruled that Nazis had a freedom-of-speech right to march in a town that was home to many Holocaust survivors. Sara Flounders, co-director of the International Action Center, said, "Heckling is also a form of speech." She said people like Netanyahu have generous funding and ready access to the media to get their message out, while her organization does not have adequate opportunity to tell what's happening to the Palestinians. Asked if all groups who feel their message is not getting out, such as white supremacists, should have license to disrupt speech, Polster said, "It's a very, very tough issue, and I can only speak for this one event." Alan Schlosser, managing attorney for the San Francisco office of the American Civil Liberties Union, said, "It's not an easy question." The ACLU swallowed a bitter pill to argue for the Nazi's right to march in Skokie. "The right to protest includes the right to protest vigorously and loudly," he said, but not "the right to break the law or interfere with other people attending the speech." In general, Schlosser said, "The burden is on the government, in this case the Berkeley police, to take all steps necessary to allow free speech to take place and to allow protesters to express themselves." Some protesters said police shared responsibility for cancellation of the speech because they retreated behind a fence and did not arrest those who blocked the theater. Police said they had not received early notification of Netanyahu's appearance and that attempting arrests with their stretched resources could have escalated crowd anger and led to injuries. -- HECKLED IN BERKELEY Here are some of the people whose speeches have been disrupted or canceled by protesters in Berkeley. -Benjamin Nentanyahu, former Israeli Prime Minister. His Nov. 28 speech was canceled when protesters opposed to his hard line in the conflict with Palestinians blocked the Berkeley Community Theatre. -Gen. Wesley Clark, former NATO commander. His Oct. 19 speech at the Berkeley Community Theatre was disrupted by two protesters chanting ""Wesley Clark, war criminal!" -Dan Flynn, executive director of Accuracy in America, was disrupted by hecklers on Sept. 27 during a University of California speech claiming death row inmate Mumia Abu Jamal is guilty. -Madeleine Albright, U.S. Secretary of State. Her May 10 commencement address at UC's Greek Theatre was interrupted repeatedly by protesters opposed to U.S. sanctions against Iraq. -David Irving, author who claims Holocaust was exaggerated. His Feb. 1995 talk at UC was cancelled by protesters who fought with his audience. Protesters tossed rocks and bottles at his Oct. 1994 talk, injuring three people. -Vincent Sarich, emeritus Berkeley professor who said affirmative action discriminated against whites. More than 50 protesters disrupted his anthropology class in Nov. 1990. -Sandra Day O'Connor, U.S. Supreme Court Justice. Protesters opposed to her rulings restricting abortion and upholding an anti-sodomy law interrupted her Jan. 1990 speech at UC. -Clarence Pendleton, first black chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. His April 1985 talk was interrupted by hecklers opposed to his support of policies shunning racial quotas in employment and school admissions. -Jeane Kirkpatrick, former ambassador to the United Nations. She left the stage during a Feb. 1983 UC lecture, shouted down by hecklers opposed to U.S. policy in El Salvador. She resumed her talk but canceled a lecture the next day. ---- E-mail Charles Burress at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
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