Civil Rights Case Against UC Berkeley

Two lawyers act on behalf of a Jewish student assaulted by a leader of a Muslim student group.

Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Neal Sher, an attorney practicing in New York City. He was the Director the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations, which investigated and prosecuted Nazi criminals in the U.S.  In that capacity, he was responsible for bringing many dozens of prosecutions and for barring former UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim from coming to this country. He also served as the National Executive Director of AIPAC and was the President of the American Section of the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists.  In March he and his colleague in San Francisco, civil rights attorney Joel Siegal, filed a civil rights case against U.C. Berkeley on behalf of a Jewish student who had been assaulted by a leader of a Muslim student group.

FP: Neal Sher, welcome back to Frontpage Interview.

I would like to talk to you today about the Amended Complaint that was just filed in the Berkeley federal civil rights case.

But first, give our readers a brief background on the case.

Sher: It's a pleasure to be back with you at Frontpage.

As your readers may remember, last March a first of its kind federal civil rights case was been filed in United States District Court in Oakland, California, against the University of California at Berkeley, the Regents of the University of California and their ranking officials, by a Jewish student who had been assaulted on campus last year by a leader of a Muslim student organization during a pro-Israel event.

On March 5, 2010, Jessica Felber, a twenty year old Jewish student at Berkeley, was attacked and injured on campus because of her Jewish ancestry and religious affiliation. At the time she was holding a sign stating “Israel wants Peace.” Her assailant, Husam Zakharia, also a UC Berkeley student, was the leader of Students for Justice in Palestine (“SJP”) at Berkeley.

The University and its officials were fully aware that Zakharia, the SJP and similar student groups  had been involved in other incidents on campus to incite violence against and intimidate Jewish and other students. Nevertheless, in clear dereliction of their legal responsibilities, Defendants took no reasonable steps to protect Ms. Felber and others.

The Complaint further describes how the SJP conspires and coordinates with the Muslim Student Association (“MSA”), which has a publicly documented history of affiliation with and support of organizations deemed “terror organizations” by the United States Department of State. That they have resorted to intimidation and harassment is evidenced most recently by the fact that the District Attorney of Orange County, California, has indicted eleven students from these groups for inciting and disrupting a speech given by the Israeli Ambassador to the United States at the University of California, Irvine.

The Complaint charged that the assault was the result of the university having:  (1) fostered  and encouraged campus terrorist incitements by the SJP and the MSA) ; (2) turned a blind eye to the perpetrators of illegal activities; (3) failed to effectively discipline the MSA and SJP for their pro-terrorist programs, goals and conduct; despite having ample notice that such violence was foreseeable;  and (4) failed to provide adequate security to prevent the violence, harassment and intimidation which occurred on March 5, 2010.

Ignoring complaints from students about the poisonous climate on campus, defendants condoned, allowed and enabled groups such as the MSA and the SJP to threaten, harass and intimidate Jewish students and to endanger their health and safety. Their tolerance of the growing cancer of a dangerous anti-Semitic climate on its campuses, and their failure to take adequate measures to quell it, violated the rights of Ms. Felber’s and other students to enjoy a peaceful campus environment free from threats and intimidation.

We noted that the on-campus activities of the SJP and MSA against plaintiff and other students of Jewish religion and ancestry  - and the university's failure to confront them - present a disturbing echo of the darkest period in history: the incitement, intimidation, harassment and violence carried out under the Nazi regime and those of its allies in Europe against Jewish students and scholars in the leading universities of those countries during the turbulent years leading up to and including the Holocaust.

There is a genuine fear by Ms. Felber and other students of Jewish ancestry on campuses throughout the University of California system that the tragic lessons of history have not yet been learned by these defendants. They fear that the University of California campuses are no longer places of hope and dignity, of academic and personal freedom, or of peaceful life and personal safety.

FP: Ok, so now the Amended Complaint -- what is that about?

Sher: Just last week, we filed an Amended Complaint in the case brought by Jessica Felber. Following the filing of the original Complaint in March, another "Apartheid Week" occurred on campus, where a student in a wheel chair became entangled in barbed wire placed in front of the main gate on campus by the anti-Israel gangs. Despite the repeated warnings of the dangers posed by the anti-Israeli provocateurs, the University and its officials condoned the establishment of “checkpoints,” where students dress as Israeli soldiers, carry realistic-looking assault weapons, lay barbed wire on heavily traveled campus walkways, and interrogate others about their religious affiliation and national origins.

FP: Are there new documents in the Amended Complaint?

Sher: There are. We have added an additional plaintiff, Brian Maissey, who currently is a student on Campus. We have included in the Amended Complaint a Declaration from Brian in which he expresses his fears about Apartheid Week and sets out some very disturbing facts:

--     As part of “Apartheid Week,” each year for the past three years members of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) create barriers on campus in an effort to simulate what, in their view, security checkpoints are like in Israel.

--   Many of the members of the Muslim Student Association (MSA) and SJP wear Israeli flags, which contain the Jewish star, and they have signs with Hebrew writing on them; and many carry mock semiautomatic weapons that look real. They pretend to be Jewish Israelis.  They set up a checkpoint at Sather Gate, where they interrogate students to determine whether they should be allowed to pass through the checkpoint, and they “act out” the supposed harassment of Palestinians on each other.

--  the “interrogators” ― those pretending to be Jewish Israelis ― are  rude, obnoxious, overbearing, aggressive and violent.

Brian also reveals how on March 17, 2011, he saw the students from MSA and SJP (dressed like Israeli Jews) block most of the central part of Sather Gate.  They put down a material which looked like barbed wire or at least was supposed to simulate barbed wire at the checkpoint at Sather Gate. Moreover, he observed the simulated “barbed wire” get caught and entangled in an individual’s wheelchair. His independence and ability to move around campus was blocked and inhibited by persons who were wearing Israeli flags.

All of this goes well beyond any activities which deserve free speech protection.  On the contrary, such conduct is terrifying, especially to young students, and it certainly endangers the health and safety of Jewish students.

Such activities have no place on campus and students have every right to expect that the school officials will take all reasonable measure to prevent such intimidating and harassing activities. The defendants in this case have failed miserably to do so.

FP: Why have the defendants in this case not done anything about these activities of the Muslim groups? What does it signify? What do you hope to do achieve with this lawsuit?

Sher: As we have seen elsewhere on campuses throughout the country, the University seems to be a slave to political correctness. And, I suspect that there is an element of intimidation stemming from the actions of the anti-Israel crowd, who have been loud and persistent in pushing their agenda. And, some university officials might have mistakenly bought into the deceitful propaganda being spread by those who seek to de-legitimize the Jewish state and her supporters.

In addition to securing redress for our clients, we want the universities to ensure that all students are free to study and live in an environment in which they do not feel threatened or harassed because of their religion, ethnic background or legitimate political views. Regrettably, in this area Berkeley and other schools in the U. of C. system get a failing grade.

FP: Neal Sher, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview.