Campus anti-Semitism complaints dismissed

Feds rule that Jewish students’ civil rights at Cal, U.C. Santa Cruz have not been violated

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights this week dismissed separate complaints against U.C. Berkeley and U.C. Santa Cruz that claimed the universities tolerated environments hostile to Jewish students.

The U.C. Berkeley complaint detailed five incidents that, according to the complainants, violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on race, religion or national origin.

One incident took place during so-called “Israeli Apartheid Week” last year, at which mock Israeli checkpoints were installed. Another occurred in a history class, during which a Jewish student claimed a professor insulted her for proffering pro-Israel views. Another stemmed from public comments during a student government debate on divestment, while the last two had to do with anti-Semitic vandalism.

Nearly a year after opening its investigation, the OCR concluded that the incidents described in the complaint either fell under the broad umbrella of free speech or that the particulars were too vague to make a determination.

In a four-page letter to U.C. Berkeley, the OCR said, “In the university environment, exposure to such robust and discordant expressions, even when personally offensive and hurtful, is a circumstance that a reasonable student in higher education may experience.”

In a press release, U.C. Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks said, “The claim that there is a hostile environment for Jewish students at Berkeley is unfounded. The campus takes great pride in its vibrant Jewish community … we will continue our ongoing efforts to protect free speech rights while promoting respectful dialogue.”

San Francisco–based attorney Joel Siegal, one of two lawyers who filed the complaint with the OCR, said Aug. 25, “We are reviewing all options, including an appeal.”

The U.C. Santa Cruz complaint stemmed from several campus incidents, including anti-Semitic graffiti and public speakers who were harshly critical of Israel. In this case, the OCR closed the complaint, concluding that the campus “took prompt action to investigate … and to remove the graffiti.”

U.C. Santa Cruz Chancellor George Blumenthal said, “This campus values the free and open expression of ideas, and we diligently safeguard our students’ civil rights. We are, therefore, pleased that these allegations have been thoroughly investigated and dismissed.”

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.