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Leading Civil Rights Group Sues University of California, Berkeley Over ‘Unchecked Spread of Antisemitism’

A student walks along the University of California, Berkeley campus in Berkeley, California, US, June 8, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Carlos Barria

The Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law has filed a lawsuit against the University of California, Berkeley for allegedly failing to address surging antisemitic hatred on campus, arguing the school has allowed a hostile environment to fester and neglected to stop campus groups from requiring Jewish students and faculty to denounce Zionism.

“This suit targets the longstanding, unchecked spread of antisemitism at the University of California Berkeley, which, following the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks, has erupted in on-campus displays of hatred, harassment, and physical violence against Jews,” said the complaint filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of California on Tuesday. “Court intervention is now needed to protect students and faculty and to end this antisemitic discrimination and harassment, which violates university policy, federal civil rights law, and the US Constitution.”

The complaint, obtained by The Algemeiner, argued anti-Jewish discrimination was prevalent on campus long before Hamas’ massacre across southern Israel last month.

“For over a year, student organizations at Berkeley Law have been enacting and enforcing policies that confront Jews with an unthinkable unlawful ultimatum: Disavow an integral component of your Jewish identity — Zionism — or be denied the same rights and opportunities enjoyed by other members of the campus community,” the document read.

The lawsuit, which requested from the court an injunction on excluding Zionists from student clubs and faculty groups, also named as defendants the regents and other leaders of the University of California, as well as Berkeley Law School.

The complaint provided several examples of antisemitic harassment and exclusion on campus, including a bylaw banning Zionists speakers that 23 Berkeley Law groups adopted in Sept. 2021, campus groups Women of Berkeley Law and the Queer Caucus requiring support for the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel to join its ranks, and the Berkeley Journal of Gender, Law, and Justice banning Zionists from submitting articles and speaking at its events.

The campus environment worsened after Hamas’ Oct. 7 onslaught across southern Israel, in which the Palestinian terror group murdered over 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took more than 240 others as hostages to Gaza, according to the complaint. Indeed, the suit alleged that hate mail and death threats have been sent to Jewish students, that Jewish students have opted not to attend class because walking through campus risked encountering angry pro-Palestinian supporters, and that an anti-Israel demonstrator bashed a Jewish student draped in an Israeli flag over the head with a metal water bottle.

“On campus, you have students out in the open being attacked, and the university won’t call it a hate crime. That’s a problem,” Hannah Schlacter, a second-year student at the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business, told The Algemeiner. “There’s a policy in place for how to handle a hate crime, and the [University of California Police Department] did not follow it, and when the student asked why, my understanding is that they didn’t follow the policy in place; they just made up different excuses.”

Schlacter added that Jewish students were victims of a double standard, being the only minorities not protected from discrimination by the university’s Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging.

“A big reason I feel anger and disappointment is the realization that the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion that I thought I would be included in don’t apply to me,” she continued. “This is so much bigger than just the Berkeley campus.”

Brandeis Center founder and chairman Kenneth Marcus, who graduated from Berkeley Law, told The Algemeiner that conditions at the school required a legal remedy.

“The situation has only deteriorated over the past year, as well as spreading to other parts of the university. And since Oct. 7, it has gotten so bad that it became clear that we couldn’t wait any longer before taking legal action,” Marcus explained. “There has been actual physical assault and a very seriously escalated problem on campus. Many other campuses have problems too, but Berkeley is unusual in that it had such a challenging situation even before Oct. 7, as well as a history of administrators declining to take appropriate action, which has made the situation worse.”

On Tuesday, a UC Berkeley spokesperson denied the Brandeis Center’s allegations, saying that the school has “long been committed to confronting antisemitism, and to supporting the needs and interests of its Jewish students, faculty, and staff.” The spokesperson cited as evidence the school’s establishment in 2019 of a “groundbreaking” Antisemitism Education Initiative.

Additionally, Berkeley Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky shared a statement with The Algemeiner defending the school.

“Berkeley Law is dedicated and works hard at being a conducive learning environment for our Jewish students and all of our students,” Chemerinsky said. “The complaint filed by the Brandeis Center paints a picture of the Law School that is stunningly inaccurate and ignores the First Amendment. For example, student organizations have the First Amendment right to choose their speakers, including based on their viewpoint. Although there is much that the campus can and does do to create an inclusive learning environment, it cannot stop speech even if it is offensive.”

The school did not address its handling of the alleged assault on a Jewish student.

The Brandeis Center argued in its complaint, as it has successfully argued in the past, that forcing Jews to denounce Zionism and excluding Zionists from campus activities is not protected by the First Amendment’s right to free speech.

“Anti-Zionism is discrimination against those who recognize the Jews’ ancestral heritage — in particular the Jews’ historic connection to the land of Israel and the right of the Jewish people to self-determination in their ancestral homeland — as key components of their Jewish identity,” the complaint argued. “The United States, along with at least forty-two other nations, has recognized that demonizing, delegitimizing, and applying a double standard to Israel — all forms of anti-Zionism that are distinct from criticism of the State of Israel or opposition to the policies of the Israeli government — are forms of antisemitism.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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South Dakota Passes Bill Adopting IHRA Definition of Antisemitism

Gov. Kristi Noem (R) speaking to legislators during the State of the State address on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2024 at South Dakota State Captiol in Pierre. Photo: Samantha Laurey and Argus Leader via REUTERS CONNECT

South Dakota’s state Senate passed on Thursday a bill requiring law enforcement agencies to refer to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism when investigating anti-Jewish hate crimes.

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem (R) already adopted the definition, which has been embraced by lawmakers across the political spectrum, via executive order in 2021. This latest measure, HB 1076, aims to further integrate the IHRA’s guidance into law and includes the organization’s examples of antisemitism. It now awaits a vote by the state House of Representatives.

“As antisemitism continues to rise across America, having a clear and standardized definition enables a more unified stance against this hatred,” the Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM), said in a statement. “We appreciate Governor Kristi Noem for making this legislation a policy goal of hers, strengthening the use of the IHRA Working Definition in South Dakota through legislation, following the December 2021 adoption via executive proclamation.”

CAM called on lawmakers in the lower house to follow the Senate’s lead and implored “other states to join the fight against antisemitism by adopting the IHRA definition, ensuring the safety and well-being of their Jewish residents.”

First adopted in 2005 by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism states that “antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews,” and includes a list of illustrative examples ranging from Holocaust denial to the rejection of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination. The definition is used by hundreds of governing institutions, including the US State Department, European Union, and the United Nations.

Widely regard as the world’s leading definition of antisemitism, it was adopted by 97 governmental and nonprofit organizations in 2023, according to a report Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM) Antisemitism Research Center issued in January.

Earlier this month, Georgia became the latest US state to pass legislation applying IHRA’s guidance to state law. 33 US States have as well, including Virginia, Texas, New York, and Florida.

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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Columbia University Sued for Allowing Antisemitic Violence and Discrimination

Anti-Israel students protest at Columbia University in New York City. Photo: Reuters/Jeenah Moon

Columbia University allowed for antisemitism to explode on campus endangering the welfare of Jewish students and faculty, StandWithUs Center for Legal Justice and Students Against Antisemitism (SAA) alleges in a lawsuit announced on Wednesday.

Filed in the US District Court of Southern New York, the complaint recounts dozens of reported antisemitic incidents that occurred after Oct. 7 which the university allegedly failed to respond to adequately because of anti-Jewish, as well as anti-Zionist, bias.

“Columbia refuses to enforce its policies or protect Jewish and Israeli members of the campus community,” Yael Lerman, director of SWU Center for Legal Justice said on Wednesday in a press release. “Columbia has created a pervasively hostile campus environment in which antisemitic activists act with impunity, knowing that there will be no real repercussions for their violations of campus policies.”

“We decline to comment on pending litigation,” Columbia University spokesperson and vice president for communications told The Algemeiner on Friday.

The plaintiffs in the case accuse Columbia University of violating their contract, to which it is bound upon receiving payment for their tuition, and contravening Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. They are seeking damages as well as injunctive relief.

“F— the Jews,” “Death to Jews, “Jews will not defeat us,” and “From water to water, Palestine will be Arab,” students chanted on campus grounds after the tragedy, violating the school’s code of conduct and never facing consequences, the complaint says. Faculty engaged in similar behavior. On Oct. 8, professor Joseph Massad published in Electronic Intifada an essay cheering Hamas’ atrocities, which included slaughtering children and raping women, as “awesome” and describing men who paraglided into a music festival to kill young people as “the air force of the Palestinian resistance.”

300 faculty signed a letter proclaiming “unwavering solidarity” with Massad, and in the following days, Students for Justice in Palestine defended Hamas’ actions as “rooted in international law.” In response, Columbia University president Minouche Shafik, opting not to address their rhetoric directly, issued a statement mentioning “violence that is affecting so many people” but not, the complaint noted, explicitly condemning Hamas, terrorism, and antisemitism. Nine days later, Shafik rejected an invitation to participate in a viewing of footage of the Oct. 7 attacks captured by CCTV cameras.

The complaint goes on to allege that after bullying Jewish students and rubbing their noses in the carnage Hamas wrought on their people, pro-Hamas students were still unsatisfied and resulted to violence. They beat up five Jewish students in Columbia’s Butler Library. Another attacked a Jewish students with a stick, lacerating his head and breaking his finger, after being asked to return missing persons posters she had stolen.

More request to the university went unanswered and administrators told Jewish students they could not guarantee their safety while Students for Justice in Palestine held demonstrations. The school’s powerlessness to prevent anti-Jewish violence was cited as the reason why Students Supporting Israel (SSI), a recognized school club, was denied permission to hold an event on self-defense. Events with “buzzwords” such as “Israel” and “Palestine” were forbidden, administrators allegedly said, but SJP continued to host events whole no one explained the inconsistency.

Virulent antisemitism at Columbia University on the heels of Oct. 7 was not a one-off occurance, the complaint alleges, retracing in over 100 pages 20 years of alleged anti-Jewish hatred at the school.

“Students at Columbia are enduring unprecedented levels of antisemitic and anti-Israel hate while coping with the trauma of Hamas’ October 7th massacre,” SWU CEO Roz Rothstein said in Wednesday’s press release. “We will ensure that Columbia University is held accountable for their gross failure to protect their Jewish and Israeli students.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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University of California-Los Angeles Student Government Passes BDS Resolution

Graphic posted by University of California, Los Angeles Students for Justice in Palestine on February 21, 2024 to celebrate the student government’s passing an resolution endorsing the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement. Photo: Screenshot/Instagram

The University of California-Los Angeles student government on Tuesday passed a resolution endorsing the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement, as well as false accusation that Israel is committing a genocide of Palestinians in Gaza.

“The Israeli government has carried out a genocidal bombing campaign and ground invasion against Palestinians in Gaza — intentionally targeting hospitals universities, schools, shelters, churches, mosques, homes, neighborhoods, refugee camps, ambulances, medical personnel, [United Nations] workers, journalists and more,” the resolution, passed 10-3 by the UCLA Undergraduate Student Association Council (USAC), says, not mentioning that UN personnel in Gaza assisted Hamas’ massacre across southern Israel on Oct. 7.

It continued, “Let it be resolved that the Undergraduate Student Association of UCLA formally call upon the UC Regents to withdraw investments in securities, endowments mutual funds, and other monetary instruments….providing material assistance to the commission or maintenance of flagrant violations of international law.

The days leading up to the vote were fraught, The Daily Bruin, the university’s official student newspaper reported on Wednesday.

“Non-UCLA students” sent USAC council members emails imploring them to vote for or against the resolution and USAC Cultural Affairs Commissioner and sponsor of the resolution, Alicia Verdugo, was accused of antisemitism and deserving of impeachment. The UCLA Graduate Student Association and University of California-Davis’ student government had just endorsed BDS the previous week, prompting fervent anticipation for the outcome of Tuesday’s USAC session.

Before voting took place, members of the council ordered a secret ballot, withholding from their constituents a record of where they stood on an issue of monumental importance to the campus culture. According to The Daily Bruin, they expressed “concerns” about “privacy” and “security.” Some members intimated how they would vote, however. During a question and answer period, one student who co-sponsored the resolution, accused a Jewish student of being “classist” and using “coded” language because she argued that the council had advanced the resolution without fully appreciating the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the history of antisemitism.

“As a Guatemalan, …my country went through genocide,” he snapped at the young woman, The Daily Bruin’s reporting documented. “My family died in the Guatemalan Mayan genocide. I understand. I very well know what genocide looks like.”

Other council members  voiced their support by co-sponsoring the resolution, which was co-authored by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a group that has held unauthorized demonstrations and terrorized Jewish students across the country.

Responding to USAC’s decision, Jewish students told the paper that they find the campaign for BDS and the attempts of pro-Palestinian students to defend Hamas’ atrocities myopic and offensive.

“How can anyone dare to contextualize since Oct. 7 without acknowledging that the Jewish people are victims of such a cataclysmic attack?” Mikayla Weinhouse said. “BDS intentionally aims to divide a community. Its supporters paint a complex and century-old conflict in the Middle East as a simplistic narrative that inspires hate rather than advocates for a solution.”

University of California-Los Angeles denounced the resolution for transgressing school policy and the spirit of academic freedom.

“The University of California and UCLA, which, like all nine other UC campuses, has consistently opposed calls for a boycott against and divestment from Israel,” the school said in a statement. “We stand firm in our conviction that a boycott of this sort poses a direct and serious threat to the academic freedom of our students and faculty and to the unfettered exchange of ideas and perspectives on this campus.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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