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Jewish Groups Sue University of California Over ‘Unchecked’ Antisemitism

Jewish groups are suing the University of California system, UC Berkeley and its leaders over what they are calling a “longstanding, unchecked spread of anti-Semitism.”

The 36-page lawsuit, filed Tuesday by the Brandeis Center and Jewish Americans for Fairness in Education, argues that Berkeley and its law school’s “inaction” on discrimination against Jewish students has led to a spread of antisemitism, and violence and harassment against them. Demonstrations and incidents on campus following the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks on Israel serve as examples of the discrimination, according to the complaint.

The complaint is among the first high-profile lawsuits against a university in the aftermath of the protests that roiled campuses in response to the conflict in the Middle East.

Jewish groups are suing over policies enacted by at least 23 Berkeley Law student groups that exclude students from joining or bar guest speakers from presenting if they do not agree to disavow Israel or if they identify as Zionists. They argue that anti-Zionism is a form of antisemitism and say that the policies violate the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause, the First Amendment right to freedom of religion, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and more.

“Conditioning a Jew’s ability to participate in a student group on his or her renunciation of a core component of Jewish identity is no less pernicious than demanding the renunciation of some other core element of a student’s identity — whether based on race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual identity,” the lawsuit said. “No such imposition is required — or would be remotely tolerated — of other students.”

The groups are accusing Berkeley and the UC system of inaction against the policies that “betray” Jewish students and faculty. They argue that the student group policies violate a university policy that prohibits registered student groups, including law school groups, from imposing membership restrictions based on race, color, national origin and religion.

The Jewish groups want the court to intervene and require the university and university system to enforce their policies and prohibit discrimination against Jewish students, faculty and invited speakers. They say that Berkeley has suggested that the student group policies discriminate on the basis of viewpoint and not race, ethnicity or religion, but campus leaders have also acknowledged that the policies can be “deeply upsetting to some Jewish members.”

“By abdicating responsibility and failing to act as required by UC rules and U.S. law, the university has enabled the normalization of anti-Jewish hatred on campus,” the lawsuit said. “Jewish students feel compelled to hide their identities.”

Additionally, the groups say that the university has failed to address antisemitic incidents on campus following the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks. They said students’ celebrations of the Hamas attacks resulted in violence against Jewish students. A Jewish student draped in an Israeli flag was attacked by protesters who hit him in the head with a metal water bottle, according to the complaint, and some Jews have received “hate e-mails calling for their gassing and murder.” Jewish students have also said they are afraid to attend class because of the protests.

“Students stated that the school does so little to protect Jewish students, it feels as if the school were condoning anti-Semitism,” the complaint said. “They added that officials at the university display a ‘general disregard’ for Jewish students. … They have little confidence that UC will protect them from anti-Semitic mobs.”