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Telephone bomb threat follows campus debate

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Telephone Bomb Threat Follows Campus Debate
By JAKOB SCHILLER (10-07-03)

Berkeley Police officers escorted Alison Weir, founder of If Americans Knew, into her organization’s South Berkeley office Monday afternoon, three days after a voicemail threat warning her to stay away from her office at 2 p.m. Monday or risk losing her life.
Weir was one of four panelists who spoke during a debate Thursday on the UC Berkeley campus where participants presented contrasting views of the Israeli/Palestinean crisis—with Weir as a representative of the Palestinian perspective.

She said If Americans Knew was created to inform and educate the American public about issues she says are unreported, underreported, or misreported in the American media.

The anonymous caller claimed to have attended the campus debate and expressed outrage at Weir, who he claimed was helping to “destroy Israel.” The voice on the message—which she replayed for reporters—sounded young, American, and intense, with long heavy breaths in between words.

“Hi. I heard your speech today in UC Berkeley; the debate. And I’m telling you this right now. On Monday, at 2 p.m., you better not be in your office. Because me and my buddies, who were trained in the Israeli Army, will come and kill every single one of you sons-of-bitches for what you are doing to destroy Israel. So watch out, this is not a joke. On Monday you better watch out. Don’t come to work. And close your organization or you’re going to die,” the message said.

After contacting the Berkeley Police and the FBI, Weir asked all other employees to stay home, but she decided to show up herself to demonstrate that she was not intimidated.

“I’m not going to be silenced,” Weir said.

Several supporters, including UC Dean of Students Karen Kenney—moderator of the UC debate—and Kriss Worthington from the Berkeley City Council, came to join her at the group’s second floor Adeline Street offices for the designated time.

“This is the bullying action of cowards,” Weir said. “I think it represents that fanaticism with which people defend Israel. It also shows how weak their cause is in a public debate.”

The debate was the result of a challenge from a San Francisco State student who had asked Weir to defend her claims against pro-Israel speakers. Weir agreed, and sat on the pro-Palestinian side with Hatem Bazian, a lecturer in UC Berkeley’s Near Eastern Studies Department. David Meir-Levi, head of the Israel Peace Institute and Eric Sirkin, a Palo Alto technology firm executive, spoke for the Israeli position.

Kenney said the debate was extremely well attended and, for the most part, orderly. Organizers had structured the event scrupulously to prevent interferences that are common at events surrounding the conflict in the Middle East.

“I thought the event went very well—a two on a scale of one to 10, with one being the best possible,” said Kenney.

Kenney said she was repulsed by the death threat and felt obligated to accompany Weir to her office. She said UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert M. Berdahl had also asked her to appear and comment on the threat.

“We want the community at large to know that anyone who comes to Cal should feel safe,” she said. “We’re an open and caring community and actions that would infringe upon anyone’s safety are absolutely unacceptable.”

Weir said she suspects that the caller was a student, but not necessarily from Cal.

After escorting Weir into her office, Berkeley police officers sat across the street in patrol cars to monitor the scene. Other officers had patrolled the area throughout the morning.

“Every threat we get we take very seriously,” said Kevin Schofield, Public Information Officer for the Berkeley Police department. “Death threats are something that are not uncommon, but they are not always at high-profile events like these.”

Weir attributes the threat to the pro-Israel side’s frustration over the debate, which she says they lost. “Since they didn’t win the debate, they thought they would just kill us,” said Weir.

She said there is a history of threats against pro-Palestinean activists from groups like the Jewish Defense League (JDL), whose chairman was indicted Jan. 10 on charges of conspiring to bomb the office of Congressman Daryl Issa. The group was also investigated for the 1985 murder of the West Coast Regional Director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC).

When the appointed hour rolled around, nothing happened—other than the arrival of additional Weir supporters, who found seats in the stairwell and office.

“I hope they’re out there to see this” said Weir, in reference to whoever had made the threat.

Weir, who said she was initially shaken by the threat, said she is refusing to let the call hold her back and has pledged to continue her work.

“When you hear this sort of thing, you say, I think I’ll work on the environment. All this is going to do is make me work harder,” she said.

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