A congratulatory dinner held at the home of UC Berkeley School of Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky was upended this week after a pro-Palestinian student started a heated speech about the Israel-Hamas war and refused to leave.

The incident, which took place Tuesday evening, came after several soon-to-be law school graduates were invited to attend one of three backyard dinners at the Oakland residence of Chemerinsky, a left-wing scholar, and his wife, law school professor Catherine Fisk.

Held in the couple’s garden, the first dinner was quickly disrupted when Malak Afaneh, a Palestinian American law student at the school who serves as co-president of Berkeley Law Students for Justice in Palestine, approached a set of steps and attempted to give a speech about the people who have been killed in Gaza as a result of the war in the Middle East.

Video footage of the confrontation between Afaneh and the couple was shared online, showing the student calling for the university to divest from corporations involved in Israel’s war. The footage also showed Chemerinsky and his wife repeatedly pleading with the student to exit the dinner and leave their property.


UC Berkeley law dean dinner

A congratulatory dinner held at the home of UC Berkeley School of Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky was upended Tuesday after a pro-Palestinian student started a heated speech about the Israel-Hamas war and refused to leave.

Standing with a microphone and reading from her phone, Afaneh was approached by Fisk, who attempted to grab at the student’s phone and microphone.

“Today, we are gathered here to commemorate our final few weeks as law students,” the student said. “Tonight is also the last night of the holy month of Ramadan, where millions of Muslims from around the world fast.”

Afaneh was then approached by Fisk, who put her arm around the student in what appeared to be an attempt to move her to the side.

“Leave,” Fisk told the student. “This is not your house. This is my house.”

“Stop touching her,” another student can be heard saying in the clip. “You don’t have to get aggressive.”

“We have attorneys,” Afaneh told Fisk.


“Please leave our house,” Chemerinsky said to the students. “You are guests at our house.”

Afaneh then claimed it was her First Amendment right to speak at the backyard dinner before Chemerinsky said, “This is my house. The First Amendment doesn’t apply.”

Malak Afaneh

Malak Afaneh is a Palestinian American law student at UC Berkeley who serves as co-president of Berkeley Law Students for Justice in Palestine.

Fisk, who told the student she was no longer “welcome” at the event, then threatened to call the police, to which Afaneh said, “Okay, you can call the police.”

Attempting to carry on with her speech, Fisk then grabbed Afaneh’s microphone and began leading her up the steps.

“Please, if you don’t want to be here, then leave my house,” Chemerinsky said amid the scuffle.

Fisk can then be heard telling Afaneh that she was not invited to the dinner “for this purpose.”

“We are talking about Ramadan and the holy month of Ramadan as Muslim students,” the student responded. “We refuse to break our fast on the blood of Palestinian people – that UC has committed sending $2 billion to weapons manufacturers…”


Afaneh later told Fisk that she would tell people about how she “pulled a Muslim woman’s scarf during Ramadan,” adding that “putting your hands on my hijab is unacceptable.”

Erwin Chemerinsky

Erwin Chemerinsky, the UC Berkeley law school dean, at his home in Oakland, California, on Jan. 19, 2021. (Carlos Avila Gonzalez/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)

Afaneh then claimed she was assaulted by Fisk, which Chemerinsky denied as he became visibly angry, saying once more, “Please leave our house now!”

In a statement about the incident, Chemerinsky said he wrote with “profound sadness” after the dinner was “disrupted and disturbed” by the student who “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,” he recalled. “Repeatedly, we said to her that you are a guest in our home, please stop and leave. About 10 students were clearly with her and ultimately left as a group.

“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 added.

Noting that the other dinners would still be held with security present, Chemerinsky said he hoped “there will be no disruptions” and insisted that his “home is not a forum for free speech.”

Erwin Chemerinsky

Erwin Chemerinsky speaks onstage at the Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Awards honoring 2017 recipients at The Playboy Mansion on Aug. 7, 2017, in Los Angeles.


“Any student who disrupts will be reported to student conduct and a violation of the student conduct code is reported to the Bar,” he added. “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.”

Prior to the dinner, Chemerinsky said there was an “awful poster” that circulated around social media and school bulletin boards in the law school building that depicted him holding “a bloody knife and fork, with the words in large letters, ‘No dinner with Zionist Chem while Gaza starves.’”

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