Berkeley schools turn 'blind eye' to antisemitism in classroom, harassment of Jewish students: complaint

A child stomps on an Israeli flag during a demonstration in Chicago, Illinois, to show support for the Palestinian people on October 11, 2023. Rally marshals stopped the display and attempted to take the flag. Organizers of the event called on the U.S. government to stop supporting Israel, which they refer to as a 'racist, apartheid state.'
A child stomps on an Israeli flag during a demonstration in Chicago, Illinois, to show support for the Palestinian people on October 11, 2023. Rally marshals stopped the display and attempted to take the flag. Organizers of the event called on the U.S. government to stop supporting Israel, which they refer to as a "racist, apartheid state." | Scott Olson/Getty Images

Jewish students in the Berkeley Unified School District of California no longer feel safe expressing their identities as teachers have been accused of promoting negative narratives about Israel and the Jewish people, according to a complaint that has sparked a U.S. Department of Education investigation. 

On Monday, the civil rights groups Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law and the Anti-Defamation League filed a supplement to their February Title VI complaint outlining a series of reported violations of the Civil Rights Act. The two groups highlighted violations such as antisemitic graffiti, cyberbullying and anti-Israel lesson plans.

On Tuesday, the ADL stated that the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights annnounced that it opened a formal investigation into the complaint. 

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"Although parents continue to report anti-Semitic incidents, the District continues to turn a blind eye, refusing to discipline the perpetrators or take steps to protect the victims," the supplement stated. "In the absence of District leadership, Jew hatred is escalating at an alarming level." 

The organizations allege that the "already-hostile environment" for Jews in the school district has only worsened since they filed the Title VI complaint.

Kenneth L. Marcus, founder and chairman of the Brandeis Center, referred to the reports of antisemitism at BUSD as "disgusting and shameful" in a statement provided to The Christian Post. Marcus asserted that if the incidents described in the complaint happened to any other minority group aside from Jews, then it would be "promptly addressed." 

The Berkeley Unified School District did not immediately respond to The Christian Post's request for comment. In a congressional hearing Wednesday, Berkeley Superintendent Enikia Ford Morthel denied that antisemitism has become “pervasive" in her school district. 

“We take action to teach, correct and redirect our students,” she said, according to The Associated Press. “We do not publish our actions because student information is private and legally protected under federal and state law. As a result, some believe we do nothing. This is not true.”

Days after the complaint was filed, according to the supplement, a Jewish student discovered "Kill Jews" scrawled in a bathroom at Berkeley High School. BUSD did not issue a statement condemning antisemitism or promising a "zero-tolerance policy" of threats against the Jews. According to the complaint, BUSD was "widely aware" of the graffiti due to media coverage.

A ninth-grader also faced bullying after his parents reported antisemitic incidents to BHS and the school district, according to the expanded complaint. An upperclassman wrote in a public social media post that the student is a "dumbass" who is "blatantly lying cuz he loves genocide that much." 

The accusation that Israel is committing genocide comes amid the country's ongoing war with Hamas, the terrorist group that has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007. On Oct. 7, Hamas attacked southern Israel, killing at least 1,200 people, primarily civilians, prompting Israel to launch an offensive in Gaza to eradicate Hamas and secure the release of the over 240 individuals the terrorists took hostage. 

The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry claims that over 34,000 people have been killed since the beginning of the war. However, the data does not distinguish between civilians and combatants, and Hamas has been accused of embedding itself within civilian populations. Additionally, Hamas admitted last month to having "incomplete data" on more than 11,000 of the deaths in its tally, sparking further questions about the reliability of the numbers. 

After the Brandeis Center and the ADL filed their February Title VI complaint, a group of BUSD teachers wrote a letter to the school board, describing parents who raised civil rights concerns as "extreme" community members with a "pro-Israel agenda." The educators also claimed in their letter that the ADL is "known as Israel's attack dogs in the US" and that they stand with their "fellow educators who speak truth to power." 

Immediately after the filing of the Title VI complaint, ethnic studies teachers at BHS also began presenting what ADL and the Brandeis Center described as unapproved, biased and anti-Semitic propaganda in the classroom. A vocabulary list provided to students defined Hamas as an "Islamic Resistance Movement" and its actions as "armed resistance." 

Students at BHS also displayed posters demanding the reinstatement of an art teacher placed on leave after he "created a hostile environment for Jewish students," according to the expanded complaint. The document stated that the principal did not address the posters after a concerned parent sent him an email; instead, he sent "shoutouts" to students and faculty that praised the teacher.

The art teacher had displayed a projection of a fist holding a Palestinian flag and punching through a Star of David following Hamas' Oct. 7 massacre, as detailed in the February Title VI complaint. During class time, the teacher would reportedly play "violent pro-Hamas videos" in addition to "projecting anti-Israel and anti-Semitic images." He was eventually placed on leave after numerous media outlets reported on his behavior.

During a cooking lesson on Palestinian food, a seventh-grade teacher at King Middle School forced her students to listen to a podcast that accused Israelis of "stealing" land and "appropriating" Palestinian recipes, which the expanded complaint noted "demonized Israel and the Jews." 

In March, a BHS teacher posted a QR code in her classroom for a Gaza Genocide Action Toolkit that told readers to "make sure everyone knows that Israel is mass murdering Palestinian families with our tax dollars." 

"The blatant disregard by BUSD of this continuing anti-Semitic harassment, bullying and rhetoric is inexcusable," ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a Monday statement provided to CP. 

"Jewish students are hiding their identities and are afraid to go to school — this is outrageous, unacceptable, and should not be happening in 2024," Greenblatt continued. "The Berkeley School District must be held accountable for their inaction and seeming indifference to addressing this hostile school environment and must do more to ensure the safety of Jewish students."

Samantha Kamman is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: Follow her on Twitter: @Samantha_Kamman

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