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Jewish groups sue University of California for ‘longstanding, unchecked spread of anti-Semitism’ at Berkeley

Jewish groups are suing the University of California Regents, President Michael Drake and other school officials for what they assert is the “longstanding, unchecked spread of anti-Semitism” on UC Berkeley’s campus.

In a 36-page complaint filed Tuesday, the Brandeis Center and the Jewish Americans for Fairness in Education (JAFE) allege “inaction” by UC Berkeley and Berkeley Law has allowed antisemitism to grow on campus. The groups say since the Oct. 7 terrorist attack on Israel, antisemitism on campus “has erupted in on-campus displays of hatred, harassment, and physical violence against Jews.” 

The groups argue courts must now intervene to protect the civil rights of Jewish students and faculty and end “anti-Semitic discrimination and harassment.” 

University of California officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

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The lawsuit points to several examples of Jewish students being harassed by pro-Palestinian protesters at UC Berkeley. During one rally, a Jewish undergrad draped in an Israeli flag was allegedly assaulted by two protesters “who struck him in the head with a metal water bottle,” the Brandeis Center said in a news release. 

The group also cited examples of pro-Palestinian rallies that honored Hamas terrorists who brutally massacred more than 1,200 Israelis Oct. 7 as “martyrs” and featured chants such as “intifada” and “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” which are seen as calls for the elimination of Israel. 

But the focus of the complaint is a 2022 pledge by 23 student organizations to boycott pro-Israel speakers because of their “support of Zionism” and “the apartheid state of Israel.” The Brandeis Center argues the ban violates federal law and university policies by denying Jewish law students networking opportunities afforded to other groups and discriminates against them in other ways.

“The antisemitism Berkeley’s Jewish students find themselves embroiled in today did not start on Oct. 7,” said Kenneth L. Marcus, former U.S. assistant secretary of education for the Bush and Trump administrations. He’s the founder and chairman of the Brandeis Center and a graduate of UC Berkeley’s law school. 

“It is a direct result of Berkeley’s leadership repeatedly turning a blind eye to unfettered Jew hatred.” 

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“The school is quick to address other types of hatred, but why not antisemitism?” he continued. “Berkeley, once a beacon of free speech, civil rights and equal treatment of persons regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, gender and sexual preference, is heading down a very different and dangerous path from the one I proudly attended as a Jewish law student.”

The Jewish groups are asking a court to require the University of California sytem to enforce its policies and prohibit discrimination against Jewish students, faculty and invited speakers. They reject arguments voiced by university leaders that punishing anti-Israel speech and actions would be “viewpoint discrimination,” arguing that “Zionist” speakers are being excluded “because of who they are,” not what they say. 

“Making Jews renounce that core component of their identity to participate in a student organization is no different than asking members of the LGBTQ community to remain ‘in the closet’ as the cost of membership — a cost that is not imposed on other students who are free to participate fully in those organizations without disavowing or hiding their identities,” said Rachel Lerman, vice chair and general counsel at the Brandeis Center and also a graduate of UC Berkeley Law School.

The lawsuit comes during a wave of antisemitism on college campuses following the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war. High-profile incidents of discrimination against Jews and violent speech by pro-Palestinian activists have led the Biden administration to investigate alleged civil rights violations at the nation’s top schools. 

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The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is opening an investigation into Harvard University, for example, to probe whether Harvard “failed to respond to alleged harassment of students based on their national origin (shared Jewish ancestry and/or Israeli) in a manner consistent with the requirements of Title VI,” according to a letter from the OCR Boston Office dated Tuesday. 

The investigation came in response to a complaint about a first-year Israeli student at Harvard Business School who was reportedly shoved and accosted by pro-Palestinian protesters during a “die in” demonstration in October at the Massachusetts campus to protest Israel’s retaliatory strikes against the Gaza Strip.

The investigation was revealed the same day it was announced college presidents from Harvard, MIT and the University of Pennsylvania will testify on Capitol Hill about rampant antisemitism on their campuses that followed Hamas’ Oct. 7 terror attacks.

The Department of Education reached a settlement with the University of Vermont in April over a complaint brought by the Brandeis Center that the school failed to respond adequately to antisemitic harassment of Jewish students. The department is investigating four other Brandeis Center complaints at SUNY New Paltz, the University of Southern California (USC), Brooklyn College and the University of Illinois, the group said. 

The complaint was filed in the U. S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

Fox News Digital’s Danielle Wallace contributed to this report.

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