Jewish groups sue UC Berkeley for 'longstanding, unchecked spread' of antisemitism

Demonstrators hold signs and flags at a pro-Palestinian protest in front of Sproul Hall at the University of California Berkeley in October 2023.
Demonstrators hold signs and flags at a pro-Palestinian protest in front of Sproul Hall at the University of California Berkeley in October 2023. | Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons/Kefr4000

A new lawsuit accuses the University of California Berkeley of a history of allowing antisemitism to go “unchecked” on campus, culminating in a surge of violence and harassment against Jewish students following Hamas’ Oct. 7 terrorist attack.

The Brandeis Center and the Jewish Americans for Fairness in Education filed the 36-page complaint last Tuesday at the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

In addition to UC Berkeley, the other defendants named in the lawsuit are the University of California Regents, University President Michael Drake, University Chancellor Carol T. Christ and Provost Ben Hermalin. 

The complaint seeks to target “the longstanding, unchecked spread of anti-Semitism at the University of California Berkeley.” Plaintiffs argue that court intervention is necessary to protect students and faculty, citing instances of harassment and physical violence in the wake of the Oct. 7 attack against Israel.

The complaint quotes UC Berkeley Dean Erwin Chemerinsky as saying that he was “stunned” when college students throughout the country, including at UC Berkeley, celebrated the Oct. 7 terrorist attack that killed over 1,200 people, a majority of them civilians. Hamas also seized around 240 people as hostages during its surprise onslaught against Israel. 

“While the civilized world responded with horror and grief, students at UC Berkeley celebrated this twenty-first-century pogrom with resulting violence against Jewish students,” the complaint stated. 

In a statement shared with The Christian Post, the Brandeis Center described an incident in October cited in the lawsuit where pro-Palestinian protestors reportedly attacked a Jewish undergraduate student draped in an Israeli flag. 

As the university newspaper, The Berkeley Scanner, reported at the time, the demonstrators attempted to steal the flag during a pro-Palestinian rally on campus, making it the second attempted theft of an Israeli flag at the school. 

Another incident involved two pro-Palestinian protestors disrupting Jewish students who gathered to pray after Hamas’ attack. Students have also participated in various rallies demanding the dismantling of Israel and chanting phrases such as “intifada, intifada,” according to the Brandeis Center.

“The students also described pro-Palestinian rallies blocking the main entrance to campus and a lecturer who told students that class was over early before proceeding to embark on an anti-Israel rant for 18 minutes, with roughly 1,000 freshman [sic] as his captive audience,” the lawsuit stated. 

“Both students stated that the school does so little to protect Jewish students, it feels as if the school were condoning anti-Semitism,” the complaint continued. ”They added that officials at the university display a ‘general disregard’ for Jewish students.” 

Before the Hamas attack, the lawsuit claimed that Jewish students had to deal with discrimination on campus.

Brandeis Center Chairman Kenneth L. Marcus, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education during the Bush and Trump administrations, asserted that the antisemitism on campus is a direct result of Berkeley’s leadership “turning a blind eye to unfettered Jew-hatred.”

The Brandeis Center founder alleges that Berkeley is quick to address other forms of hatred but not antisemitism. 

“Berkeley, once a beacon of free speech, civil rights, and equal treatment of persons regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, gender, and sexual orientation, is heading down a very different and dangerous path from the one I proudly attended as a Jewish law student,” Marcus stated. 

One example of pre-Oct. 7 antisemitism on campus cited in the complaint is a 2022 pledge to ban all Zionist speakers by nine law student organizations last year.

The number of groups supporting the pledge has now risen to 23 organizations, with the lawsuit arguing that the ban bars Jewish students from networking opportunities provided to others. 

The groups behind the suit request that the court prohibit discrimination against Jewish students, faculty and speakers by requiring the school to enforce its nondiscrimination policies, among other requests. 

A UC Berkeley spokesperson told The Christian Post Wednesday that the academic institution "has long been committed to confronting antisemitism, and to supporting the needs and interests of its Jewish students, faculty, and staff.” 

“That commitment was strengthened in 2015, when the university established the Chancellor’s Committee on Jewish Student Life, and again in 2019 when a groundbreaking Antisemitism Education Initiative was launched on the campus,” stated the spokesperson.  

The UC Berkeley spokesperson shared two documents with CP showcasing the university’s efforts to combat antisemitism following the Hamas terror attack last month, claiming the school does not have a legal right to stop demonstrations people may find offensive.

The spokesperson also attached a statement from Dean Chemerinsky, who claimed the campus groups' boycott against pro-Israel speakers is consistent with students’ First Amendment rights. 

Regarding the incidents of violence and harassment against Jewish students mentioned in the lawsuit, the university spokesperson said that the police department only received one report, and it was about the October incident. 

The spokesperson also denied that the school had received reports of Jewish students being the recipient of threatening emails. 

This recent lawsuit comes amid various accusations of antisemitic incidents taking place on college campuses following the outbreak of war between Israel and Hamas. In addition to student groups writing statements holding Israel solely responsible for the violence, others have harassed openly Jewish students on campus.

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

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