Updated Nov 28, 2023 - Politics & Policy

UC Berkeley sued for alleged "unchecked" antisemitism

The Sather Tower, also referred to as the Campanile, at UC Berkeley's campus on June 22. Photo: Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Two Jewish groups are suing the University of California system, UC Berkeley and its administrators over allegations of a "longstanding, unchecked spread of anti-Semitism" at the school.

Why it matters: The lawsuit is one of the first to be filed against a major university in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war and comes amid a growing number of colleges and K-12 school districts in the U.S. facing investigations over alleged incidents of antisemitism and Islamophobia.

Details: The Brandeis Center and Jewish Americans for Fairness in Education filed the lawsuit on Tuesday in federal court in San Francisco.

  • The organizations allege that antisemitism has "erupted in on-campus displays of hatred, harassment, and physical violence against Jews" following the Oct. 7 Hamas attack against Israel.
  • They are calling for "court intervention" to protect UC Berkeley students and faculty and to "end this anti-Semitic discrimination and harassment," which they say violates the U.S. Constitution, federal civil rights laws and university policy.

At least 23 UC Berkeley School of Law student groups have "enacted policies to discriminate against and exclude Jewish students, faculty, and scholars," the lawsuit alleges.

  • School leaders "have taken no action to address" the "anti-Semitic nature of such policies" despite having publicly acknowledged them, the lawsuit further alleges.

The other side: Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the law school, told Axios in an emailed statement that the complaint " ... paints a picture of the Law School that is stunningly inaccurate and that ignores the First Amendment."

  • Chemerinsky added that "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."

A spokesperson for UC Berkeley, in an emailed statement to Axios, said the university "has long been committed to confronting antisemitism, and to supporting the needs and interests of its Jewish students, faculty, and staff."

  • The spokesperson pointed to university initiatives aimed at supporting its Jewish community and an assessment of the "ongoing efforts to confront antisemitism on the campus and beyond."

As student protests erupted in the aftermath of the Oct. 7 attack, the Jewish groups also allege that the university and its law school "have failed to confront, much less combat, the anti-Semitic environment their inaction has fostered."

  • They point to several examples, including claims that Jewish people on campus have received "hate e-mails calling for their gassing and murder" and a Jewish student "draped in an Israeli flag" was allegedly attacked by two protestors who "struck him in the head with a metal water bottle."
  • In response to these claims, the UC Berkeley spokesperson said: "To date the university has not received a single report of the sort of emails described" and that they have "checked with numerous offices and this is the first anyone has heard of an allegation of that sort."
  • "I can assure you that if we have — or if we do — we will respond strongly and quickly," the spokesperson added.

Of note: The lawsuit comes shortly after three Jewish students sued New York University earlier this month over antisemitism allegations.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional information.

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