Lawsuit alleging anti-Semitism against campus, UC dropped by plaintiffs

UC Berkeley graduate Brian Maissy was one of the plaintiffs who agreed to dismiss the suit he filed against the campus and UC with alumna Jessica Felber.
Karishma Mehrotra/Staff
UC Berkeley graduate Brian Maissy was one of the plaintiffs who agreed to dismiss the suit he filed against the campus and UC with alumna Jessica Felber.

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UC Berkeley alumni Jessica Felber and Brian Maissy dismissed their lawsuit accusing the campus and UC system of failure to mitigate a hostile climate against Jewish students during demonstrations in March 2010, the campus announced Wednesday.

The lawsuit was settled with the agreement that the university will consider potential changes to its policies regarding campus protests after collecting campus opinion. Felber and Maissy will receive no monetary compensation or attorney reimbursements.

The suit stems from an incident during which Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and the Muslim Student Association established a mock checkpoint that included fake barbed wire and AK-47 firearms at a 2010 Apartheid Week event. The plaintiffs alleged that Husam Zakharia, campus alumnus and former leader of SJP, rammed Felber — who was a member of Tikvah Students for Israel — with a shopping cart. Felber consequently sought medical treatment and a restraining order against Zakharia.

In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs accused the university of failing to discipline the accused campus groups, to provide adequate security and to implement policies to prevent the hostile environment, ultimately “turn(ing) a blind eye.”

The legal complaint, filed in March 2011, was dismissed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in December 2011.

“The allegations in the Felber lawsuit and the strategy behind bringing the suit were carefully calibrated to defame and harass Arab and Muslim student groups at Cal,” said Mohamed Haimoud, president of Cal MSA, in a press release issued Friday by civil rights and student groups applauding the dismissal.

The two potential policy clarifications the university will consider under the agreement — though it is not obligated to implement either — are limiting imitation firearms in public areas of campus to only when “it would be obvious to a reasonable observer that the imitation weapon is not a real weapon” and requiring demonstrators around Sather Gate to allow an unobstructed path for pedestrians.

“We had no desire for any personal compensation,” Maissy said. “We just wanted the situation to change for students in the future.”

Maissy said the lawsuit was “not entirely successful” because by the time it was concluded, both plaintiffs had graduated and consequently did not have the same power to seek redress from the court.

According to Chief Campus Counsel Christopher Patti, the university will begin to publicize the proposed policy clarifications and invite public comment from the campus community once students return in the fall. The campus will then decide whether to adopt, modify or reject the proposed clarifications based on the feedback received.

Because of that limitation, Felber and Maissy’s lawyers — Joel Siegal and Neal Sher — released a Title VI complaint to the U.S. Department of Education and Department of Justice on Monday. After the court case, according to the complaint, “(they) have become acutely aware of, and have obtained substantial evidence demonstrating, a pervasive hostile environment towards Jews on the campus.”

Maissy said he hopes the complaint will lead to an investigation that will cause the university to take more action or lose federal funding.

“Cal SJP, Cal MSA and our civil rights partners will work to ensure that these complaints are dismissed and the legacy of U.C. Berkeley as the birthplace of free speech is protected,” stated independent ASUC Senator Sadia Saifuddin in Friday’s release.

In a press release issued Wednesday, the campus said the majority of the plaintiff’s allegations was constitutionally protected speech and that the university “had made extensive efforts to maintain an inclusive and respectful campus environment that is safe and welcoming for everyone.”

“The claim that there is a hostile environment for Jewish students at Berkeley is, on its face, entirely unfounded,” stated campus Dean of Students Jonathan Poullard in the release. “The campus takes great pride in its vibrant Hillel chapter, the broad range of other Jewish student groups, our world-class Jewish Studies program, and the recently created Institute for Jewish Law and Israeli Law at the Berkeley law school.”

But Sher maintains the Apartheid Week event “brings anti-Semitism to full glory.”

“The atmosphere that some of these Jewish kids have been subjected to (is) reminiscent of what went on in Nazi Germany in the 30s,” Sher said. “And the university has the capability to step in and to stop this, but it hasn’t in years.”

Read the full text of Siegel and Sher’s Title VI complaint below: