Watch CBS News

Berkeley parents react after superintendent questioned about campus anti-Semitism on Capitol Hill

Berkeley school superintendent faces questions about anti-Semitism on campuses in Capitol hearing
Berkeley school superintendent faces questions about anti-Semitism on campuses in Capitol hearing 03:52

The Berkeley Unified School District came under the microscope on Wednesday, as its superintendent was questioned by a Congressional committee.

Berkeley sees itself as a model of tolerance and diversity, so it was uncomfortable for the school district to be accused, on a national stage, of being rampantly anti-Semitic.

Only three people testified at the hearing on school antisemitism, and Berkeley school superintendent, Enikia Ford Morthel was one of them.

"Since October 7th, the district has had formal complaints alleging antisemitism arising from nine incidents within our jurisdiction," she told the committee.  "However, antisemitism is not pervasive in Berkeley Unified School District."

"Our superintendent was the only person testifying that could not just flat out say, 'we have an antisemitism problem,'" said Ilana Pearlman. "She couldn't do it. And that was just...that was a punch to the gut."

Pearlman, who traveled to Washington D.C. for the hearing, is the mother of a student at Berkeley High who had to leave an art class when anti-Israel poster art was being displayed to the students.

One of them portrayed a fist thrusting up through a Star of David. Pearlman sees that as being directed at Jews.

"Dozens of students have been pulled out of Berkeley Unified School District classrooms when they have complained about antisemitism," she said.  "And that is wrong. So, my son included, spent a week in the student health center and library because there was nowhere to put him."

Across the Bay Area there have been attempts to hold so-called "teach-ins" about Gaza, that are usually condemning the actions of the State of Israel.

But some say the angst toward Israel is extending to outright hatred of Jews.  At one walk-out at Berkeley High, some students were alleged to have chanted, "Kill the Jews." 

Another parent in the district rejects that as a lie.  Liz Jackson, who is also Jewish and supports the Palestinians, said the complaints of antisemitism are coming from a small, vocal group of parents.

"We completely reject the notion that there's an anti-Semitic climate here," said Jackson. "Yes, of course, there are instances of hate that happens. That happens everywhere and happens here too. But what this small handful of parents are complaining about is political discomfort.  And political discomfort is completely different than unsafe."

Jackson said she is comfortable leaving instruction about the conflict up to the teachers and said she is confident that students can process information without it turning to hate.

"The hearings this morning had absolutely nothing to do with the well-being or safety of Jewish students," Jackson said.  "It was about a right-wing attack on education, a right-wing attempt to censor information."

At Wednesday's hearing, Berkeley's superintendent confirmed that the district had just, the day before, received official notice of a federal civil rights complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Education.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.