By Jonathan Stempel (Reuters) – The University of California, Berkeley was sued on Tuesday by Jewish groups who said it has become a hotbed of “unchecked” antisemitism, including at its elite law school. According to a complaint by the nonprofit Louis D. Brandeis Center, UC Berkeley’s leadership turns a blind eye to the long-festering problem […]
Jewish groups sue UC Berkeley over ‘unchecked’ antisemitism
By Jonathan Stempel
(Reuters) – The University of California, Berkeley was sued on Tuesday by Jewish groups who said it has become a hotbed of “unchecked” antisemitism, including at its elite law school.
According to a complaint by the nonprofit Louis D. Brandeis Center, UC Berkeley’s leadership turns a blind eye to the long-festering problem of antisemitism on campus, even after displays of harassment and physical violence against Jews following Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel.
The complaint filed in San Francisco federal court is among the first against a major university since the war between Israel and Hamas sparked protests on many college campuses.
It described two protesters striking the head of a Jewish undergraduate draped in an Israeli flag with a metal water bottle, and how a faculty member allegedly cut short a class for 1,000 freshmen to go on an 18-minute anti-Israel rant.
The complaint also said “no fewer” than 23 law school groups have anti-Jewish policies. It said these include requirements that invited speakers repudiate Zionism, and Jewish students wanting to provide pro bono legal services undergo “Palestine 101” training that emphasizes Israel’s supposed illegitimacy.
In a statement, UC Berkeley said it has long been committed to confronting antisemitism, and that while it cannot censor offensive speech it recognized that some demonstrations have been “upsetting and frightening” to Jewish students.
“While we appreciate the concerns expressed by the Brandeis Center, UC Berkeley believes the claims made in the lawsuit are not consistent with the First Amendment of the Constitution, or the facts of what is actually happening on our campus,” the university said.
Law school dean Erwin Chemerinsky, a constitutional law specialist, said the complaint painted a “stunningly inaccurate” picture of the school. He said the school is dedicated to a conducive learning environment for all students, and that student groups have a First Amendment right to choose speakers.
The law school, UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ, the University of California system and its President Michael Drake are among the other defendants.
Other plaintiffs include the Brandeis Center’s Jewish Americans for Fairness in Education, a nationwide group whose members include UC Berkeley staff and students.
The lawsuit says UC Berkeley’s “inaction” violates the plaintiffs’ religious and equal protection rights under the Constitution and federal civil rights laws.
It seeks a permanent injunction requiring that UC Berkeley end the hostile environment toward Jews, enforce its nondiscrimination policies, and neither fund nor recognize student groups that exclude Jews.
UC Berkeley’s law school routinely ranks among the top 10 law schools nationwide in academics and reputation.
On Nov. 14, New York University was sued by three Jewish students who accused that school of tolerating pervasive antisemitism, including by allowing chants such as “gas the Jews” and “Hitler was right.”
NYU said it took antisemitism “extremely seriously” and would challenge the lawsuit in court.
The case is Louis D. Brandeis Center Inc et al v Regents of the University of California et al, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, No. 23-06133.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Richard Chang)