By David Voreacos | Bloomberg
Two Jewish groups sued the University of California at Berkeley and its law school over the “longstanding, unchecked spread of antisemitism” they say has escalated since the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on Israel.
UC Berkeley and the law school have “failed to confront, much less combat, the antisemitic environment their inaction has fostered,” according to the complaint. It was filed Tuesday in federal court in San Francisco by the Louis D. Brandeis Center and Jewish Americans for Fairness in Education, or JAFE.
At the law school, at least 23 student organizations have enacted policies to “discriminate against and exclude Jewish students, faculty and scholars,” the groups said. They claim the university’s leaders have flouted UC rules and US law and “enabled the normalization of anti-Jewish hatred on campus.”
Dan Mogulof, an assistant vice chancellor at Berkeley, said in a statement that the university “has long been committed to confronting antisemitism and to supporting the needs and interests of its Jewish students, faculty and staff.”
The complaint comes amid a national debate over the Israel-Hamas war and claims of antisemitism at US colleges. It was filed two weeks after three students sued New York University alleging that “egregious” antisemitism there has gotten even worse since the war began.
Next week the presidents of Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will be called before Congress to address the issue. Alumni, donors and students have criticized the leadership of Harvard, Penn and other schools.
The Brandeis suit cites a number of examples. Among them: After Oct. 7, a Jewish undergraduate draped in an Israeli flag was attacked by two protesters who struck him in the head with his water bottle. A lecturer ended class early and subjected about 1,000 freshmen to an 18-minute “anti-Israeli rant,” the groups said. And Jewish staff and faculty have received “hate e-mails calling for their gassing and murder,” they said.
They claim the university must take action under Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which bars discrimination based on race, color or national origin, and allege they have been denied equal protection under the law and the free exercise of religion. They asked the court to order Berkeley to stop the student organizations from excluding Jews, require the school to enforce its policy on nondiscrimination and take action to “end the hostile environment” on campus.
Mogulof said that while Berkeley doesn’t have a legal right to stop protests, it understands “how upsetting and frightening some of the demonstrations have been for Jewish students.” The school is offering counseling and academic support, he said.
According to the complaint, JAFE members, who include law professors at Berkeley and other schools, are prevented from speaking on campus because of their Jewish identity, denying them compensation and opportunities to burnish their reputations. JAFE is housed within and operated by the Brandeis Center, which advocates for the civil rights of Jewish people and others.
Berkeley Law is dedicated to being “a conducive learning environment for our Jewish and all of our students,” Dean Erwin Chemerinsky said in a statement. Chemerinsky, the co-author of Free Speech on Campus, said the suit depicts the law school in a way that is “stunningly inaccurate and that ignores the First Amendment.”
The war started when Hamas, which the US and European Union designate as a terrorist group, swarmed into southern Israeli communities from Gaza, killing about 1,200 people and abducting about 240. In Gaza, more than 14,000 people have died amid airstrikes and a ground assault by Israel in its counterstrike against Hamas, according to Gazan officials.
The case is Brandeis Center v. Regents of the University of California, 23-cv-06133, US District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).
–With assistance from Janet Lorin.
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