UC Berkeley sued for 'current hotbed of anti-Jewish hostility'

FILE ART: UC Berkeley. 

A nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., sued UC Berkeley on Tuesday alleging that the campus allows the "longstanding, unchecked spread of antisemitism," which has resulted in a current hotbed of anti-Jewish hostility and harassment. 

The 42-page complaint was filed by the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law in the U. S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco.

It names the University of California Regents, UC President Michael Drake, UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ, and other officials. 

Among the chief complaints in the suit is that more than 20 groups have enacted a "Zionist ban," denying Jewish law students networking opportunities provided to others, which the lawsuit calls illegal under federal law and university policies. 

To many Jews, being a Zionist simply means supporting and loving the state of Israel. 

According to the lawsuit, UC leaders have excused the discrimination as "viewpoint discrimination," protected, they claim, by the First Amendment.  

But the Brandeis Center said the Zionist ban does not exclude individuals based on viewpoint because it has nothing to do with anything a given speaker might say or author might write; it excludes speakers because of who they are.

"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," Rachel Lerman, vice chair and general counsel at the Brandeis Center and also a graduate of UC Berkeley Law School, said in a statement.

The complaint cites several other examples of alleged intimidation and physical violence against Jewish students since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel. 

  • During one of the numerous rallies on campus, a Jewish undergraduate draped in an Israeli flag was struck in the head by with a metal water bottle by two protesters.
  • Jewish students and faculty are receiving hate mail calling for their gassing and murder.
  • Many Jewish students report feeling afraid to go to class.
  • Pro-Palestinian protesters disrupted a prayer gathering by Jewish students and pro-Palestinian rallies blocked the main entrance to campus.
  • A UC Berkeley faculty member went on an anti-Israel rant for 18 minutes, with roughly 1,000 freshman as his captive audience.
  • Students participating in the pro-Hamas rallies have spouted hatred and threats against Jews, harassed Jewish students, demanded the dismantling of Israel, honored Hamas "martyrs" who were killed while butchering Jewish civilians, and chanted phrases such as "intifada, intifada," condoning violence against Jews, and "from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free," calls for the elimination of Israel and the eradication of the 7 million Jews that live there.

UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof said the school appreciates the "concerns expressed by the Brandeis Center," but the university believes that its claims are inconsistent with the First Amendment and do not reflect the "facts of what is actually happening on our campus."

Mogulof said Cal has "long been committed to confronting antisemitism, and to supporting the needs and interests of its Jewish students, faculty, and staff."

He cited, for example, the 2015 creation of the Chancellor’s Committee on Jewish Student Life and when the Antisemitism Education Initiative was launched on the campus in 2019.

"As a public university, Berkeley does not have the legal right to stop demonstrations or expression that many would consider to be offensive," Mogoluf said in an email to KTVU. "Those demonstrations and expression are protected by the Constitution of the United States. While censoring that expression is not an option, we do understand how upsetting and frightening some of the demonstrations have been for Jewish students, and the university is responding to their impact."