Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Neal Sher, an attorney practicing in New York City. He, along with San Francisco attorney Joel Siegal, is presently representing Jessica Felber, a Jewish UC Berkeley student who is suing the university over being physically attacked by Muslim Students.
Previously, Sher 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.
FP: Neal Sher, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
Tell us about this suit that you are filing on behalf of Jessica Felber. What happened exactly?
Sher: On March 5, 2010, Jessica Felber, a twenty-year-old Jewish student at Berkeley, was attacked and injured on campus during a pro-Israel event while 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 at Berkeley. There is no doubt that she was attacked because of her religion and Jewish ancestry.
Defendants – UC Berkeley, the Regents of the University of California and their ranking 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, 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.
Ignoring complaints from students about the poisonous climate on campus, defendants condoned, allowed and enabled groups such as the Muslim Student Association 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 and other students to enjoy a peaceful campus environment free from threats and intimidation.
FP: Tell us in what ways this is a very significant and important lawsuit. It can be seen in many ways as turning point right?
Sher: This is, to our knowledge, a precedent complaint demanding that the university honor its legal obligations to protect the rights of its students. It is also important because, as people who follow and monitor events on campuses around the country well know, universities and colleges are major battlegrounds for those who are pressing the campaign to delegitimize and denigrate Israel. They have created an atmosphere of intimidation and harassment for Jewish and pro-Israel students which has been condoned and allowed to fester by university officials.
FP: Why did UC Berkeley fail to provide security to Felber?
Sher: It’s also difficult to pinpoint motives. Perhaps officials themselves were intimidated or, perhaps, they were simply hostile to students like Jessica and their causes. But, the central point is that the officials were fully aware of the threats posed by the SJP, MSA and their followers and they failed to respond adequately as they were legally obligated to do.
FP: Your thoughts on the growing Muslim extremism on campuses putting Jewish students in danger?
Sher: Clearly, this is a very serious problem as there has been a growing number of incidents on campuses, not just within the University of California system but throughout the country, where groups like the SJP and MSA have intimidated and harassed students and faculty members. Moreover, this campaign appears to be highly organized and thoroughly planned.
It is also very troubling that the on-campus activities of the SJP and MSA against Jessica and other students – 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.
I can tell you that there is a genuine fear by Jessica 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: What do you hope this lawsuit will help achieve?
Sher: First, we are demanding damages for Jessica injuries she suffered, physical and otherwise, due to defendant’s failure to honor its legal obligations. And, we would all like to see a sea change in the attitudes and actions on the part of the university and officials. As it now stands, students such as Jessica have been deprived of their constitutional rights and their ability to live and learn in a campus environment free of intimidation, threats and bullying.
FP: The thought of the roles reversed here, and with Berkeley having the same disposition toward the events, is simply unfathomable. What I mean is this: I can’t even imagine (1) Jewish students physically attacking Muslim students on a campus and (2) that if this hypothetically happened, that Berkeley would respond in the same way. First, if Muslim students sensed they were in danger from Jewish students, I am sure Berkeley would have made security arrangements – to say the least. And if Jewish students attacked a Muslim student, while the entire country’s media would be up in arms, Berkeley would be engaged in all kinds of disciplinary action. What are your thoughts on this observation?
Sher: You’ve hit the nail on the head. There is no question that if the shoe was on the other foot, immediate and decisive action would be taken by the powers that be. It’s time that we demand an end to the hypocrisy and double standards which have gone on far too long and which will be exposed in this lawsuit. The silent majority should remain silent no longer!
FP: Neal Sher, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview and thank you for coming to the defense of those who are no longer safe from violence on our campuses.