In the aftermath of Hamas’ October 7 terrorist attack on Israel, there has been a 400 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents in the United States. College campuses have increasingly become hotbeds for anti-Semitism, creating a challenging environment for many Jewish students across the country.
At some universities, this environment has sparked legal action over the alleged failure to protect Jewish students and faculty from discrimination. On November 28, 2023, the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law filed a lawsuit against the University of California over the “longstanding, unchecked spread of anti-Semitism” on the university’s Berkeley campus in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
The Brandeis Center, as an associational plaintiff, is bringing suit on behalf of a membership that includes Berkeley undergraduate, graduate, and law students and Berkeley and Berkeley Law faculty. Many of these association members remain anonymous.
The complaint begins by offering background on Zionism and its relationship to Jewish identity. It explains that the well-established idea of Zionism is integral to the ethnic, ancestral, and religious identity of most Jews. It points out that the United States and 42 other countries have recognized that, while criticism of Israeli policies is not anti-Semitic per se, demonizing, delegitimizing, and applying a double standard to Israel may be anti-Semitic, when the overall context is taken into account.
The complaint alleges violations of the Equal Protection Clause and the Free Exercise Clause, interference with the right to contract based on race, and violation of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. It points to instances of anti-Semitism at UC Berkeley both before and after October 7.
For example, 23 Berkeley Law student organizations have policies that discriminate against Jewish students. These policies include a ban on Zionist speakers; a requirement that students participate in a “Palestine 101” training—taught by Law Students for Justice in Palestine—to be able to participate in Legal Services projects; and a ban on publication by Zionists in the Berkeley Journal of Gender Law.
Since October 7, other anti-Semitic incidents have taken place on Berkeley's campus. The complaint describes Jewish students receiving hate emails that call for their gassing and murder. Protesters striking a Jewish student who was draped in an Israeli flag in the head with a metal water bottle. Jewish students at Berkeley reporting that they are too afraid to go to class because of rallies taking place in central parts of campus and uncertainty over whether the campus would do anything to “protect them from anti-Semitic mobs.”
The requests for relief include permanently enjoining the Defendants from allowing student organizations to exclude Jewish students and requiring them to cease funding any student organization that does so. It also requests that the Defendants enforce Berkeley's Policy on Nondiscrimination and take the necessary actions that will end this hostile environment. Finally, the complaints requests the court enter a declaratory judgment against the Defendants finding that their failure to enforce policies to protect Jewish members of the Berkeley community violates the Equal Protection Clause, the Free Exercise Clause, Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and the Plaintiffs' right to contract.
The Brandeis Center’s legal action against Berkeley comes at a time in which many campuses nationwide face similar activity. This lawsuit could serve as a strong warning signal to other universities who have blatantly disregarded an increase in campus anti-Semitism.
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