Federal officials investigate allegations of anti-Semitism at UC Berkeley

A protester shouts during an Apartheid week protest on February 28, 2012. A lawsuit is underway as a result of these protests.
Tony Zhou/File
A protester shouts during an Apartheid week protest on February 28, 2012. A lawsuit is underway as a result of these protests.

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Federal officials are investigating a complaint filed against UC Berkeley alleging that protests staged on campus have created an anti-Semitic environment.

The U.S. Department of Education’s civil rights office confirmed this week that it is investigating allegations from a complaint filed in July by attorneys representing UC Berkeley alumni Jessica Felber and Brian Maissy.

“(The civil rights office) received a complaint alleging that Jewish students at the university were harassed and subjected to a hostile environment on the basis of their national origin,” reads a statement released by the U.S. Department of Education Press Office. “And, that the university failed to respond promptly and effectively to notice of the hostile environment. The complaint is under investigation.”

The complaint alleges that the campus has persistently failed to curtail anti-Semitic behavior from annual Israeli Apartheid Week demonstrations, which are organized by the campus group Students for Justice in Palestine to raise awareness of the conditions of Palestinians in Israel.

The complaint cites a 2010 Apartheid Week demonstration in which students from SJP and the campus Muslim Student Association participated in a mock checkpoint that included fake barbed wire and fake AK-47 firearms.

SJP member Tom Pessah said the aim of Israeli Apartheid Week is to demonstrate inequalities in Israel.

“No one is stopped at checkpoints other than the actors in the demonstration — everyone knows that,” said SJP member Mariah Lewis.

Felber and Maissy filed a lawsuit against the university in March 2011 alleging that it had failed to mitigate a climate averse to Jewish students. The suit was dismissed by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in December of 2011.

“The administration has engaged in an ongoing dialogue with the opposing parties in an attempt to ensure that the rights of all persons are respected, and to minimize the potential for violence and unsafe conditions,” the dismissal ruling stated.

UC Berkeley spokesperson Dan Mogulof said campus officials have remained committed to maintaining a safe and welcoming climate for all students and to protecting free speech rights.

“Speech criticism of Israeli governmental policy is not necessarily anti-Semitic,” Mogulof said. “One can object deeply to the policies of Israel. Our students should have a right to protest what they believe to be an unlawful and immoral action.”

Mogulof said that the campus will provide the same information to the civil rights office that it provided judges with during the Felber and Maissy lawsuit and said the complaint seems to be a way to shop for more venues and courtrooms to tell the university to violate the constitutional rights of students involved in the demonstrations.

“The real story here is a massive assault on free speech and a coordinated effort to silence the legitimate political speech of students critical of Israel,” said Liz Jackson, an attorney with the National Lawyers Guild, in an email. “The factual allegations are simply untrue.”

Contact Alyssa Neumann at [email protected]

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  • I get this foreboding feeling that the land will become unhabitable for humans, so much fighting for nothing.

  • Current student

    “No one is stopped at checkpoints other than the actors in the
    demonstration — everyone knows that,” said SJP member Mariah Lewis.

    Regardless of whether or not you agree with SJP, this is a flat out lie. If SJP is going to continue being blatantly dishonest to the media, then there is no reason to believe anything they say. LIARS.

  • Red_Geologist

    We need freedom FROM Zionist extremist racists in Berkeley!

  • concernedalum

    Seems like students arguing and now the FBI is involved. The campus should have taken care of this.

  • h4ldol

    I’m neither Jewish nor Muslim, and have hatred for neither group, but I support Palestinian rights and hope that they eventually regain a nation of their own in a land that was unjustly taken from them.

    • Russell Bates

      palestine 48

      • Dan Spitzer

        Master Bates, whatever could you mean by “Palestine 48?” The name “Palestine” is the moniker the British hung on the area when they colonized it after taking it over from Ottoman Turkish rule. The Brits named it after people who were emphatically NOT the current Palestinians, but who lived in the area centuries prior to British rule. Prior to that, the region was governed by the Turks, with the seat of Ottoman governance situated in Damascus, Syria. As for Jerusalem, while it is mentioned in the Old Testament roughly 3000 times, there is nary a word about it in the Koran.

        The name “Palestinian” was the moniker Yassir Arafat hung on the Arabs of the region around the mid-’60’s for propaganda purposes. Prior to that, they and everybody else simply called them “Arabs.” Of course, their religious leader-the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem-spend much of WW II in Berlin as a Hitler ally. In Berlin under the Third Reich, the Grand Mufti helped orchestrate the Holocaust of Yugoslavian Jews and was working on plans for a similar liquidation of Jews in what we now call Israel when the Allies inconveniently upset his applecart by winning the war.

        • charlie

          Do the actions of this one man justify throwing thousands of Arabs (as you would prefer to call them) out of their homes? If you look at history in such black and white terms than it’s high time we reexamine the greatness of leaders like Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Jackson.

          What’s your point exactly in saying that the people that lived in what is now Israel referred to themselves as Arab?

          Finally, although Jerusalem is not mentioned by name in Quran, it is often alluded to. It is however mentioned quite frequently in the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. Besides, the claim that the Palestinians have to the land in Jerusalem has nothing to really do with religion per se. Rather, it has more to do with being unjustly thrown out of their homes and the support thrown behind colonization.

    • some student

      That will only happen when Hamas decides it loves Palestinians more than it hates Jews.

      Free Gaza…from Hamas.

  • Calipenguin

    The U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights investigates schools that do not provide equal access to all students. The school’s staff and administrators may not have done anything wrong, but by refusing to remove impediments to equal opportunity and access the schools are still subject to investigation, fines, and loss of federal funding.

    For example, if a male student displays a poster of Selena Gomez in a bikini and it makes a female student uncomfortable, that poster must be removed by the school staff or the Office of Civil Rights will send investigators. If a group white jocks block an entryway and make loud jokes about Blacks to prevent Blacks from trying out for the team then the school staff is still responsible to create free access. If a group of Palestinian terrorist sympathizers block a gate and engage in loud theatrics to create an atmosphere of intimidation which results in a lack of free access, then the school is responsible to stop that kind of intimidation. Free speech is meant to disseminate political opinions and not meant to violate other people’s civil rights.

  • photo caption is wrong

    they already lost the lawsuit, this is a federal investigation

    • photo caption is wrong

      “they” meaning the zionists who are engaging in this lawfare to suppress speech critical of israel

      • Dan Spitzer

        Idiot, it’s not “Zionists” who are doing the investigating. Can you fucking read?

        • charlie

          Also, can you please be a bit civil on this forum? There’s no need for name calling. If you believe someone is in incorrect, just state your opinion and leave it at that. Maybe if we had less name calling and more please and thank you’s this world would be a better place.

    • Dan Spitzer

      The Feds don’t waste their time on an investigation unless they believe there must be something to the charges.

      • Red_Geologist

        Yes Dan, and the Cops ONLY arrest Guilty People, too. Watch out Dan, You are next!

  • bob

    Campus can be uncomfortable for any human.

    • Red_Geologist

      and MORE uncomfortable to any knee jerk SUB-Human, 808!

  • Dan Spitzer

    Mariah Lewis says, “Nobody is stopped at the checkpoints.” That is complete and utter rubbish. I was walking through campus during the absurdly named Israeli Apartheid Week (the only apartheid in that area of the world is exhibited by Arabs toward women, gays and dissidents) and had to push my way through military-garbed Stupids for Just Us in Foul-Asstine students who were blocking Sather Gate. They were screaming at those who were slowed in getting through Sather Gate, “Are you Jewish? Are you Jewish?”

    Also, Daily Cal editors, why have you not sought any semblance of balance in not asking your reporter to interview Jewish students such as representatives from Tivah and the Jewish Student Union? The only students interviewed are SJP’ers Lewis and Pessah and of course, UC spokesman Mogulaf and a lawyer from the stridently anti-Israel National Lawyers Guild. No decent newspaper would demonstrate such one-sided reportage.

    • Zoro

      Dan, your hateful rhetoric just gets boring after a while. Please do us all a favor and find another outlet for your anger and hatred.

      • Dan Spitzer

        Ah, more wisdom from Stupids for Just Ass in Foul-Asstine. This asswipe simply can’t handle the truth so he asks that it be throttled.

    • Matthew

      There is a legitimate discourse to be had here without resorting to name-calling. You can (and IMO should) criticize the SJP and their tactics without being childish. I fully agree with you that this article could use at least one quote from someone on the other side.

    • Guest

      Are you or were you a student at Cal?

  • Ginger Xie

    “No one is stopped at checkpoints other than the actors in the demonstration — everyone knows that,” said SJP member Mariah Lewis
    Thats not true. And everyone knows that. The barbed wire is a particularly tacky touch, btw. I wish you’d keep your little political squabbles to yourselves- sometimes the Palestinians seem like spoiled children vying for attention. Dont you realize your tacky theatrics do nothing for your cause or your people?

  • Guest

    Same people who lost a lawsuit less than a year ago:

    “A lawsuit contending that UC Berkeley and the UC system failed to mitigate a climate averse to Jewish students was dismissed….”

  • Alumnus

    Yep, when you go too right or left of center you lose perspective and someone with an outsider’s perspective has to tell you you’re going Lord of the Flies. I feel sorry for the many Jews on campus who are uncomfortable because of the increasingly hostile climate.