Two San Francisco-based lawyers have filed an appeal asking the U.S. Department of Education to revisit a previously dismissed complaint alleging that UC Berkeley administrators failed to respond to a hostile campus environment for Jewish students.
Lawyers Joel Siegal and Neal Sher filed the appeal Oct. 4 with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, asking the office to reinvestigate its initial complaint against UC Berkeley that was dismissed in late August.
Like the prior complaint, the appeal alleges that Jewish students at UC Berkeley faced intimidation, violence and offensive comments during various events on campus, including what the lawyers claim to be derogatory language directed at Jewish students by the student group Students for Justice in Palestine during Israeli Apartheid Week.
In their appeal, Siegal and Sher claim the OCR failed to fairly investigate various incidents of intimidation and violence on campus.
Siegal and Sher allege the OCR is practicing a double standard by condemning a “ghetto-themed” party hosted by a fraternity at UC San Diego but failing to address offensive events during Israeli Apartheid Week at UC Berkeley in 2010. They add that the events during Israeli Apartheid Week were “equally offensive and odious to Jewish students.”
“In some ways, Apartheid Week is more offensive,” Siegal said. “It is a full week on-campus, (and) it portrayed Jews as blood-thirsty barbarians.”
After investigating Siegal’s initial complaint, the OCR dismissed the allegations, saying events such as Israeli Apartheid Week did not violate Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin.
UC Berkeley spokesperson Dan Mogulof said the appeal is without merit in light of the OCR’s past ruling on the issue.
“Given the extent to which the university’s position has been fully supported to date, we see the appeal as an unfortunate, quixotic endeavor,” Mogulof said in an email.
Sophomore Michaela Fried, a vice president of Tikvah, a campus organization that advocates self-determination for Jewish people in Israel, said she has at times felt uncomfortable as a Jewish student at UC Berkeley.
“There have been multiple instances since I’ve arrived at Cal of swastikas being drawn in bathrooms and classrooms on campus and in the dorms,” she said in an email.
Some students, such as Elon Rov, a senior and co-chair of UC Berkeley’s chapter of J Street U, a Jewish student political advocacy group, did not experience a hostile campus climate.
“This school has been extremely welcoming and accepting of Jewish practices,” he said. “I feel like I have all the resources I need.”
The OCR also dismissed similar complaints filed by separate individuals against UC Irvine and UC Santa Cruz. Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, a lecturer at UCSC, has appealed the dismissal of her initial complaint that the campus allows a hostile environment for Jewish students by supporting anti-Semitic events on campus.
“The biggest issue is that they misunderstood my complaint,” Rossman-Benjamin said. “It wasn’t that there was anti-Israel speech or events. My complaint was that those events were sponsored by the university.”
According to the OCR, the appeals are under review.
Contact Michelaina Johnson at [email protected].