UC Berkeley was sued Tuesday by Jewish groups who said longstanding unchecked antisemitism has spread on campus, including at its law school.
The lawsuit said law school groups have anti-Jewish policies.
The complaint filed in San Francisco federal court is among the first against a major university since the war between Israel and Hamas began.
"I feel fear, and at the same time, I'm not going to wear a shirt that I would have gotten on a trip to Israel. I'm not going to necessarily have a pin of an Israeli flag, or to do anything that would show my solidarity," said UC Berkeley graduate business student Hannah Schlacter.
Schlacter is part of Jewish Americans for Fairness in Education or JAFE — one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. The group is made up of professors and students.
It is affiliated with the nonprofit Louis D. Brandeis Center, another plaintiff.
Schlacter shared video with KPIX of two assaults that happened in October.
She said one of them was taken moments after a Jewish student carrying an Israeli flag was hit with a metal water bottle.
"My understanding is that I'm not seeing the university enforce policy in place, and when you don't enforce policy in every situation only certain situations, that to me is discrimination," said Schlacter.
When asked if antisemitism on campus is hindering her education, Schlacter said: "Yes, it most definitely is."
The lawsuit said court intervention is needed to protect students and faculty, and end antisemitic discrimination, which violates university policy, federal civil rights laws and the constitution.
"As far as what we want, folks who work in DEI or who are responsible for student safety, having them educated and trained on what antisemitism looks like in 2023, it's calling the two assaults against Jewish students hate crimes, and three, it's having someone fulltime employed in the Title VI office, who is specifically trained to handle the Jewish students and our complaints."
The university said in a statement to KPIX:
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 with the facts of what is actually happening on our campus. The university has long been committed to confronting antisemitism, and to supporting the needs and interests of its Jewish students, faculty, and staff. That commitment was strengthened in 2015, when the university established the Chancellor's Committee on Jewish Student Life, and again in 2019 when a groundbreaking Antisemitism Education Initiative was launched on the campus.
Since the horrific Hamas terror attack on Israel, the university's administration has worked in close concert with the Initiative's director and the Committee's chairperson, and we have benefited from their guidance and input. Attached are two essential documents. The first is a summary of what the Berkley campus is doing to support our Jewish students, according to and as compiled by Professor Ethan Katz, the Chair of the Chancellor's Committee on Jewish Student Life. The second was compiled by Gregg Drinkwater, the director of Berkeley's Antisemitism Education Initiative, and describes his assessment of our ongoing efforts to confront antisemitism on the campus and beyond.
As a public university, Berkeley does not have the legal right to stop demonstrations or expression that many would consider to be offensive. Those demonstrations and expression are protected by the Constitution of the United States. While censoring that expression is not an option, we do understand how upsetting and frightening some of the demonstrations have been for Jewish students, and the university is responding to their impact. We are offering counseling support, arranging academic adjustments for impacted students when possible, and have issued clear statements about the campus's position, like this one..
We are also continuously conveying to students that if they believe that they have been subjected to antisemitic harassment or discrimination, or believe that expression---whether it be written or spoken--- is hindering their education, they must report that immediately to our Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination. When that happens, they have been assured the campus will respond.
Berkeley Law's dean, Erwin Chemerinsky, also responded to allegations against the school:
"Berkeley Law is dedicated and works very hard to provide a conducive learning environment for our Jewish and all of our students. The complaint filed by the Brandeis Center paints a picture of the Law School that is stunningly inaccurate and that ignores the First Amendment. For example, student organizations have the First Amendment right to choose their speakers, including based on their viewpoint. 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."
Schlacter said she the lawsuit was filed because students felt that their concerns were not being taken seriously. She wants to see cultural and systemic change.
"So, systemic change would mean that on the Berkeley website when they talk about free speech, then they should identify what is antisemitism, what is Islamophobia, what are hate crimes against Jews and what are hate crimes against Muslims," Schlacter said.
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