Brandeis Center Files Lawsuit against UC Berkeley For Abetting Campus Antisemitism
Jewish students are afraid to attend classes at UC Berkeley, once the bastion of free speech.
The Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law filed a complaint on behalf of Jewish students today in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, alleging that the University of California at Berkeley has become a “hotbed of anti-Jewish hostility and harassment.” The suit names the University of California (UC) Regents, UC President Michael Drake, UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ and other academic officials as defendants.
The lawsuit charges that since Hamas terrorists launched their attack on Israel on October 7 that there has been an upsurge of campus antisemitism at the institution. The filing cited several on-campus incidents of intimidation, harassment, and physical violence against Jewish students. In the complaint, UC Berkeley Jewish students wrote that UC Berkeley gives the appearance of condoning antisemitism because it does so little to protect Jews on campus. The group added that campus officials show a “general disregard” for Jewish students.
A copy of the complaint was obtained by Shaken Terra, which recounts a pro-Palestinian rally after October 7. At the rally, a Jewish student wrapped in an Israeli flag was attacked by two protesters who struck him in the head with a metal water bottle. The complaint also details hate mail received by Jewish students and faculty that call for gassing and murdering Jewish. According to the filing, Jews are afraid to attend classes on campus. The suit charges that when Jewish students gathered for prayer, pro-Palestine protesters blocked the main entrance to campus. Also,a faculty member ranted for 18 minutes against Israel with roughly 1,000 freshmen in his lecture class.
Various faculty members have verified that antisemitism is rising on the campus. In an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, UC Berkeley Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky wrote: “I am a 70-year-old Jewish man, but never in my life have I seen or felt the antisemitism of the last few weeks.” He noted that, “[t]wo weeks ago, at a town hall, a student told me that what would make her feel safe in the law school would be to ‘get rid of the Zionists.’” He added he had “heard several times that I have been called ‘part of a Zionist conspiracy,’ which echoes antisemitic tropes that have been expressed for centuries.”
Faculty members have claimed that academic policies to protect students are not being enforced with regard to Jews. The UC Regents reportedly committed $7 million to combat antisemitism and Islamophobia, but it is distributed across 10 campuses. Faculty members and students feel that despite the expenditure, the root problem of how Jews are treated differently than others has not been addressed.
According to the lawsuit, antisemitism has increased since Oct. 7 but has long been prevalent on campus. In 2022, for instance, nine law school student organizations amended their constitutions with a bylaw that bans any pro-Israel speaker. Since then the number has grown to 23 groups, including academic journals that prohibit Zionists from publishing and pro-bono organizations that prevent Jewish students from receiving hands-on legal experience, training, supervision and mentorship. The lawsuit charges that Jewish law students are thus banned from networking opportunities accorded to others; deprives them of pro-bono hours for state bar requirements and limits obtaining sufficient academic credits towards graduation. According to the lawsuit, all of this is illegal under federal law.
”The situation at Berkeley has deteriorated to the point that something really needs to be done beyond just raising awareness. We’re facing antisemitism at campuses around the country, but Berkeley is especially bad. Of all places, Berkeley had a number of warnings that they needed to address antisemitism and anti-Zionism, and yet they failed to heed them,” said Brandeis Center founder and Berkeley Law School alumnus Kenneth Marcus.
Berkeley’s alleged acquiescence to discriminatory policies has given antisemitism free rein in violation of the law. “This suit targets the longstanding, unchecked spread of antisemitism at the University of California Berkeley, which, following the October 7 Hamas attacks, has erupted in on-campus displays of hatred, harassment, and physical violence against Jews,” it states. “Court interventIon is now needed to protect students and faculty and to end this anti-Semitc discrimination and harassment, which violates University policy, federal civil rights laws, and the U.S. Constitution.”
The Brandeis Center, the Anti-Defamation League, Hillel International, and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP launched the Campus Antisemitism Legal Line (CALL), a free legal protection helpline for college students who have experienced antisemitism.