Jewish groups add more allegations of antisemitism to their lawsuit against UC Berkeley

May 13, 2024
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Two Jewish advocacy organizations suing the University of California, Berkeley, over a “longstanding, unchecked spread of anti-Semitism” have amended their complaint to include incidents from antiwar protests.

The federal complaint, filed in the Northern District of California in November by the Louis D. Brandeis Center and Jewish Americans for Fairness in Education, was amended May 3.

The measure is among a handful of discrimination complaints filed against universities since the Israel-Hamas war started in October.

It accuses UC Berkeley of tolerating antisemitism by failing to enforce its anti-discrimination policies on several occasions, including after the disruption of a speech by a former member of the Israeli military. 

At the February event, a protest led by antiwar student groups turned violent and several Jewish students said they were physically attacked and intimidated. Campus police intervened after protesters smashed windows and broke a door to the building where the talk event was being held. 

“For many Jews, including many Jewish students and faculty at UC Berkeley, a profound connection with the Jewish State of Israel is integral to their Jewish identity,” the Brandeis Center said in a statement. “Excluding Zionists thus effectively excludes Jews.”

A day after the protest, university officials released a statement condemning the violence and saying it would investigate the incident. 

“We cannot allow the use or threat of force to imperil members of our community and deny them the ability to feel safe and welcome on our campus,” the officials said. “We cannot cede our values to those willing to engage in transgressive behavior.”

The lawsuit also accuses the university of tolerating an allegedly antisemitic campaign against its law school dean, Erwin Chemerinsky.

In March, after Chemerinsky, who is Jewish, invited graduating law students to a series of dinners at his home, a group opposing the war in Gaza posted a caricature of him to its Instagram account. Chemerinsky is depicted as holding a fork and knife with the words “No Dinner with Zionist Chem While Gaza Starves” encircling him.

Members of the student group Berkeley Law for Palestine have repeatedly denied targeting Chemerinsky because of his faith. Instead, they say as dean of the law school he has influence with the administration, which protesters are pushing to divest from Israeli companies with ties to military operations in Gaza.

One of Chemerinsky’s dinners is now the focus of a Title IX discrimination investigation against his wife, who confronted a Muslim student when the student attempted to deliver an unexpected pro-Palestinian speech. The student, who graduated Friday, has accused the couple of Islamophobia. 

The investigation into whether Chemerinsky’s wife discriminated against the student because of her religion is ongoing.

When asked to comment on the lawsuit, Chemerinsky referred NBC News to UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof.

Mogulof said in a statement that the university takes accusations of discrimination seriously and has launched a series of antisemitism initiatives in recent years.

“While most antisemitic expression is, whether we like it or not, protected by the First Amendment, we know that as a university, we must still respond if and when that expression rises to the level of individual harassment and/or discrimination,” he said.

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