Ex-Cal students drop lawsuit, lawyers file federal complaint

Two former students who sued U.C. Berkeley and U.C. officials for allegedly tolerating a campus environment hostile to Jews agreed last week to drop their civil rights lawsuit, according to a statement issued last week by the university.

However, lawyers for the ex-students quickly turned around and filed a complaint with the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education, restating the allegations and seeking an investigation of harassment of Jewish students at U.C. Berkeley under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Brian Maissy

In exchange for the lawsuit being dropped, the university announced it will “consider certain clarifications to policies governing campus demonstrations after members of the campus community have an opportunity to comment on them,” the statement noted. However, final discretion on whether to adopt the clarifications will be left up to the university, the release added.

The suit, filed March 4, 2011 in federal court in San Francisco by now former students Jessica Felber and Brian Maissy, alleged that anti-Israel demonstrations on campus created a hostile environment for Jewish students. Felber, who was a member of Tikvah Students for Israel, alleged she was rammed with a shopping cart by Husam Zakharia, a U.C. Berkeley alumnus and former leader of Students for Justice in Palestine, according to the Daily Californ-ian. Zakharia was not named in the suit.

Felber graduated from U.C. Berkeley in December 2010 and Maissy graduated two months ago.

Jessica Felber

In their July 12 complaint filed with the federal government, attorneys Joel Siegal and Neal Sher describe what they call “a deliberate indifference to the development of a dangerous anti-Semitic climate” on campus.

In a separate letter, attorney Sher added, “Central to our complaint are the on-campus activities during ‘Apartheid Week,’ which is nothing short of a modern day version of the ‘Passion Play,’ the notorious anti-Semitic German theatrical performance which portrays Jews as bloodthirsty and treacherous villains. [During Apartheid Week in Berkeley], student activists from the Muslim Student Association and Students for Justice in Palestine — both officially registered student organizations which receive funding from the university and operate with the blessing of school officials — resort to depictions of Jews which are clearly racist and anti-Semitic.”

The attorneys noted they are hoping that the federal government undertakes an “in-depth inquiry into hostile environment at Berkeley.” The Justice Department, they noted, did such an investigation at U.C. San Diego following racist and offensive stereotypes of blacks at an event on that campus in 2010; as a result, the school is now subject to a series of strict reporting and educational requirements.

“It takes time before [the federal government] accepts the investigation. It’s up to them now,” said Sher. In his letter, he noted that schools that violate Title VI run the risk of forfeiting federal funds.

During the course of the original lawsuit — which was dismissed in December 2011 and then re-filed by the lawyers — the university argued that the majority of the offending conduct was constitutionally protected speech, and that it sought to maintain an inclusive, safe and respectful campus environment.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.