A Jewish advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. has filed a lawsuit that alleges that UC Berkeley's law school has permitted the "longstanding, unchecked spread of antisemitism" among its student groups.
Amid heightened and fraught debates around the country over the Israeli response to attacks by Hamas last month, and about the value of both Palestinian and Israeli lives, a D.C.-based non-profit, the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, is suing UC Berkeley Law School demanding that it cut funding for student organizations that discriminate against Zionism — something that the suit refers to as "viewpoint discrimination."
Zionism refers to the historical effort to create the state of Israel, and to the belief that Israel has a right to exist as a state — and for some Jews it can just refer to support for Israel itself.
As the 42-page complaint lays out, the student group Law Students for Justice in Palestine established a ban in August 2022 on all Zionist speakers on campus. That "Zionist ban" has since been adopted by 23 of the 100 student groups under the law school's banner, the suit says, effectively discriminating against Jewish students who may disagree with it.
"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," says Rachel Lerman, vice chair and general counsel at the Brandeis Center and a graduate of UC Berkeley Law School, in a statement.
Lawyers for the group describe how "A Jewish student draped in an Israeli flag was attacked by two protestors who struck him in the head with a metal water bottle" on the laws school campus. And, they say, "Jews on campus have been receiving hate emails calling for their gassing and murder."
The suit also alleges that students participating in "pro-Hamas rallies" have expressed hatred against Jews, and referred to Hamas fighters who killed Israelis as "martyrs."
UC Berkeley spokesperson Dan Mogulof gave a statement to the Chronicle responding to the suit, saying that the university "has long been committed to confronting antisemitism, and to supporting the needs and interests of its Jewish students, faculty, and staff."
And UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ put out a statement on November 3 saying she was "dismayed by and condemn the harassment, threats, and doxxing that have targeted our Palestinian students and their supporters," and by "an alarming increase in antisemitic expression in our country, in general, and on our college campuses, in particular." Christ said "Our university condemns antisemitic expression in its every form, and we are committed to addressing it when it occurs and responding when it is reported," and she added, "I am appalled by and condemn any condoning of or making excuses for terrorism."
Also, as the Chronicle noted, UC President Michael Drake announced the creation of an office dedicated to combatting discrimination, which would be creating training sessions on both antisemitism and Islamophobia.
Drake has also advocated for the "viewpoint neutral" teaching of Middle Eastern history on campus — something that 150 professors have signed a letter in protest against.
Law school dean Erwin Chemerinsky has said he disagrees with student groups' bans on Zionist speakers, and he tells the Chronicle that the Brandeis Center's lawsuit "describes a place that doesn't exist." However, Chemerinsky says the groups have a right not to invite speakers to campus who don't agree with their views.
Last month, the Brandeis Center joined the Anti-Defamation League in penning a letter to college and university presidents around the country asking that they launch investigations into chapters of the group Students for Justice In Palestine, "for potential violations of the prohibition against materially supporting a foreign terrorist organization."
Photo via Berkeley Law