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Jewish UC Berkeley student recalls fearing for her life when protesters disrupted event

Hate crime investigation underway after disruption of Israeli speaker event at UC Berkeley
Hate crime investigation underway after disruption of Israeli speaker event at UC Berkeley 03:12

For about half an hour last week, Sharon Knafelman, a 19-year-old Berkeley student, feared for her life. 

"I saw a girl get grabbed by the neck and shoved, I saw my friend get spat at, and I saw just how much anger and hatred they had towards us at this moment," she recalled. 

On Feb. 26 hundreds of pro-Palestinian protesters smashed the door glass door of UC Berkeley's Zellerbach Playhouse as an Israeli speaker was about to address Jewish students. 

The demonstration appears to have been organized by a student group Bears for Palestine. In a Facebook post the day before, the group called on people to protest the event, which was sponsored by three Jewish organizations. 

Knafelman said the mob became violent, forcing her and her friends to evacuate through an underground exit. 

"I'm just thinking, 'Why is this happening? Why is it that we, just like any other group, can't simply have our private event peacefully?'" she said.

On Monday, the university announced it's investigating the incident as a hate crime, slamming the protest as "unacceptable."

But Knafelman said she's been feeling uneasy for a while now by things like the Palestinian flags blocking the university's iconic Sather Gate.

"Almost every time I see it, I do have a visceral reaction to it," she said. "It does make me feel extremely uncomfortable."

And it's not just at Berkeley. A recent survey by the Anti-Defamation League found that since the start of the school year, nearly three in four Jewish students had experienced or witnessed antisemitism.

Ever since Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, Knafelman's parents have begged her not to wear her Star of David in public. But Knafelman said she won't be intimidated.

"This is a symbol of my people and if someone gives me a dirty look or they try to ostracize me for it I don't care because this is who I am," she said. 

The harassment is not limited to college students. Jewish parents at schools in Berkeley and Oakland have withdrawn their children from schools in both districts over concerns related to antisemitism.

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