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Feds investigate claims of anti-Semitism at UC Berkeley

October 3, 2012 |  5:43 pm

This post has been updated. See below for details.

The federal government is investigating charges that UC Berkeley officials fomented a hostile campus climate for Jewish students by failing to sufficiently tamp down anti-Israel protests.

The U.S. Department of Education’s civil rights office confirmed this week that it has launched an investigation into the charges, first filed in July by two recent Berkeley graduates. They complained that an annual “Apartheid Week” in February featuring protests against Israel's treatment of Palestinians was one of several campus events that have stoked anti-Semitic hate speech.

By failing to curb such activities, the university is presenting “a disturbing echo of incitement, intimidation, harassment and violence carried out under the Nazi regime and those of its allies in Europe against Jewish students and scholars ... during the turbulent years leading up to and including the Holocaust,” the complaint alleges.

University spokesman Dan Mogulof rejected the allegations Wednesday, saying the campus protests were constitutionally protected speech and that officials had made extensive efforts to maintain a safe and inclusive climate. Among other things, he said, the university has set up a website for anonymous complaints, dispatched teams of students and administrators to monitor the campus climate and provided funding for Jewish and Muslim students to promote dialogue and coexistance.

He said U.S. District Court Judge Richard Seeborg recognized the university’s actions last year in dismissing a complaint with similar allegations filed by the same students. A campus poll showed that 80% of Jewish students said they felt respected on campus, about the same proportion as Muslims, Mogulof said.

 “We completely reject any allegations that this university has failed to respond promptly and in an effective fashion any time the line that divides constitutionally protected speech from illegal activities gets crossed,” said Mogulof, who described himself as a dual American-Israeli citizen.

Joel H. Siegal, one of two attorneys who filed the complaint, said the actions by activists with the Muslim Student Assn. and Students for Justice in Palestine went beyond protected political protest. During “Apartheid Week,” the San Francisco attorney said, student activists posing as Israeli guards forcing people through mock checkpoints wore Stars of David and skullcaps to attack Judaism and portray all Jews as “bloodthirsty barbarians.”

[Updated, 11:30 a.m. Oct. 11: This post reported allegations that pro-Palestinian students forced classmates through a mock checkpoint to attack Judaism and portray all Jews as “bloodthirsty barbarians.” American Muslims for Palestine, however, said only pro-Palestinian students involved in the annual “Apartheid Week” campus protest went through the checkpoint and that the intent was to show support for Palestinians against Israeli government policies. San Francisco attorney Joel H. Siegal, who filed the complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s civil rights office, said students in past years had reported they were funneled through mock checkpoints and asked about their religion but that no such complaints were reported this year.]

Daren Briscoe of the federal civil rights office said that opening an investigation “in no way implies that [the office] has made a determination with regard to its merits.” Under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, recipients of federal funds are barred from discriminating on the basis of race, color or national origin.

Last year, a Hebrew language lecturer filed a similar allegation that the UC Santa Cruz campus was a hostile environment for Jewish students because of anti-Israel protests and attitudes. That campus also denied the allegation and predicted the probe would find the claim unmerited.


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-- Teresa Watanabe

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