Over the last few years, many have leveled charges that UC Berkeley is a hostile environment for Jewish and politically pro-Israel students. In dismissing a July 2012 complaint filed against the campus originating with two former UC Berkeley students, the Department of Education concluded these charges are without merit and warrant no further investigation.
This development marks a welcome departure from the conclusions reached by the UC Office of the President’s controversial Council on on Campus Climate, Culture & Inclusion. The findings from that July 2012 report contended pro-Israel Jewish students were routinely maligned and singled out by anti-Israel sentiment on UC campuses and urged the university to adopt stricter guidelines on combating perceived incidences of anti-Semitism.
The department’s ruling that the campus does not foster an anti-Semitic environment is positive for a few reasons. First, it’s always encouraging to hear that Jewish students won’t be harassed or intimidated because of their identity. Second, this provides an opportunity to reevaluate and strengthen the efforts made to build as inclusive a campus community as possible for students of all backgrounds.
And after a five-year period that included two divestment bills, multiple “Israel Apartheid Weeks” and “Israel Peace and Diversity Weeks,” a universitywide “campus climate report” and a bill passed by the California State Legislature that targeted pro-divestment campus activists, the Department of Education’s decision could mark a new era for the campus community. This means it’s important that the university double down on its efforts to maintain a healthy climate for Jewish students and their Muslim counterparts.
It’s also important to credit the role of groups like the dialogue-focused Olive Tree Initiative, which has provided a critical safe space for students from different communities to engage on what are difficult and emotionally wrought issues. The campus should look to develop more of these programs, perhaps reviving former ASUC president Noah Stern’s “Bears Breaking Bread” group dinners, which sought to carve out more safe spaces of discussion for students of traditionally opposed student communities.
In spite of the passage of SB 160, a bill calling for UC funds to be divested from companies complicit in the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, last semester the campus appears to have reached a calm for the time being. It’s now up to the campus and student leaders to ensure it stays like this.