Jewish Nonprofit Sues Berkeley, Alleging a ‘Longstanding, Unchecked Spread’ of Antisemitism on Campus

The nonprofit claims the University of California, Berkeley campus has become a 'hotbed for antisemitism' and has allowed antisemitism long before the Israel-Hamas war began Oct. 7.
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Published on November 29, 2023
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  • The Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law is a nonprofit advocating for the civil and human rights of Jewish people.
  • The lawsuit calls on the court to require the university to enforce nondiscrimination policies and ban, stop funding, and derecognize organizations that exclude Jewish students.
  • Three Jewish students filed a similar lawsuit against New York University.

A nonprofit that advocates for the civil and human rights of Jewish people sued the University of California, Berkeley and its law school, alleging a "longstanding, unchecked spread" of antisemitism exists on the campus.

The Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law filed a lawsuit Nov. 8 against University of California (UC) Regents, UC President Michael Drake, and Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ, alleging Berkeley's campus has become a hotbed of anti-Jewish hostility and harassment.

The Brandeis Center claims antisemitism and incidents of harassment, intimidation, and physical violence against Jewish students have increased since Oct. 7, when the Israel-Hamas war began.

"The anti-Semitism Berkeley's Jewish students find themselves embroiled in today did not start on Oct. 7," Kenneth L. Marcus — former U.S. assistant secretary of education for the Bush and Trump administrations, founder and chairman of the Brandeis Center, and Berkeley Law alum — said in a press release.

"It is a direct result of Berkeley's leadership repeatedly turning a blind eye to unfettered Jew-hatred. The school is quick to address other types of hatred, but why not anti-Semitism? Berkeley, once a beacon of free speech, civil rights, and equal treatment of persons regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, gender, and sexual preference, is heading down a very different and dangerous path from the one I proudly attended as a Jewish law student."

The lawsuit calls for the court to:

  • Ban the university from permitting, funding, and recognizing student organizations that exclude Jews
  • Require the defendants to enforce a nondiscrimination policy to ensure Jewish community members are protected from discrimination based on their Jewish identity or Zionist ideology
  • Require the defendants to:
    • Say Berkeley will condemn, investigate, and punish harassment of Jewish community members or others based on ethnic or ancestral background
    • Provide education about antisemitism, including mandatory administrator and professor training
    • Institute strict review and approval policies to ensure the administration does not conduct or finance programs that deny equal protection to Jewish community members, including those who are Zionist

"The complaint filed by the Brandeis Center paints a picture of the Law School that is stunningly inaccurate and that ignores the First Amendment," Berkeley Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky said in a statement to Politico.

"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."

The university told Reuters, "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."

Earlier this month, three Jewish New York University (NYU) students sued their university, alleging it has not addressed antisemitism on campus and that the administration, including new President Linda Mills, has ignored Jewish students' complaints.

The plaintiffs want the university to act against students, administration, faculty, and employees who are "responsible for the antisemitic abuse permeating the school" and to expel students who engage in antisemitism.

A spokesperson for NYU told BestColleges the lawsuit is "replete with false claims" and ignores the university's steps against antisemitism.

The University of Pennsylvania has responded to increased reports of antisemitism and concern from donors, students, and alums by laying out a plan featuring three cornerstones to combat antisemitism on campus — safety and security, engagement, and education.

The university is increasing security across campus, especially at religious centers; reviewing how external groups can reserve space and host events on campus; creating an antisemitism task force; and increasing awareness and education on antisemitism and other forms of hate including Islamophobia.