Prominent pro-Israel and right-wing organizations have been spreading the myth for months that the law school at the University of California, Berkeley, tolerates antisemitism among its students.
Now that the U.S. government has weighed in, In a similar way to the department’s investigations at other universities where watchdogs have raised concerns about campus debates over Israel, the Office of Civil Rights of the Education Department says it will look into allegations that the school hasn’t done enough to protect its Jewish students.
The department announced this week that it was looking into “whether the University failed to respond adequately in the fall 2022 semester to notice from Jewish law students, teachers, and staff that they faced a hostile atmosphere at the law school based on their religion” in a letter.
The department made it clear that just because the complaint is within the office’s purview does not always mean that the inquiry found substance.
Two law firms made the complaint, LSN Law P.A. in Miami and the Israel-based International Legal Forum.
It concerns a bylaw adopted in August by several pro-Palestinian law student organizations.
According to the bylaw, the organizations agreed to refrain from inviting “speakers who have expressed and continued to hold opinions… in favor of Zionism, the apartheid state of Israel, and the occupation of Palestine” to speak on campus.
The Louis Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, a pro-Israel legal organization founded by Berkeley Law alumnus Kenneth Marcus, claimed in an op-ed that the school had created “Jew-free zones,” even though the law school’s Jewish dean and various other faculty members condemned the bylaw.
The Brandeis Center has brought several other antisemitism complaints against universities for allegedly discriminating against Jews.
Even as Berkeley’s Jewish faculty insisted that the school does not have “Jew-free zones,” the op-ed led to increased criticism of Berkeley from sources like Barbra Streisand, Israeli antisemitism envoy Noa Tishby, and the antisemitism watchdog group JewBelong.
Outside attention included a right-wing group driving a truck with an image of Adolf Hitler through campus, a move denounced by the Anti-Defamation League.
Arsen Ostrovsky, CEO of the International Legal Forum, and Gabriel Groisman, a partner at LSN Law, announced in a joint statement announcing the investigation.
“We initiated this claim because we said ‘enough is enough’ and decided that we must stand up for the Jewish students at UC Berkeley, who have been facing an unprecedented wave of discrimination and antisemitism on campus,” they said.
The organizations have stated that they want to force the university to nullify the student body’s regulations or stop providing cash and space for “organizations that engage in such flagrant discriminatory activity.”
“The campus has in place strong anti-discrimination policies that support our belief in and compliance with what we understand to be the values and obligations enshrined in Title VI [of the Civil Rights Act] and the First Amendment,” a Berkeley Law spokesperson told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, adding that the school would cooperate with the investigation.