Hostile Environment For Jewish Students at U.C. Berkeley

Lawyers file complaint with the Justice and Education Departments alleging violations of Title VI by the university.

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.

FP: Neal Sher, welcome to Frontpage Interview.

I would like to talk to you today about why you and your colleague Joel Siegal filed a complaint with the Justice and Education Departments alleging violations of Title VI by U.C. Berkeley.

But first, as a bit of background for our readers, tell us about the federal court case that was brought by Berkeley students Jessica Felber and Brian Maissy. How was it resolved?

Sher: Thanks Jamie.

The original complaint in federal district court was a first of its kind federal civil rights case filed against the University of California at Berkeley, the Regents of the University of California and their ranking officials, by a Jewish student, Jessica Felber, who had been assaulted on campus last year by a leader of a Muslim student organization during a pro-Israel event. Later, Brian Maissy joined as a plaintiff.

On March 5, 2010, Ms.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.

University 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 laid out 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 charges 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.

There was genuine fear by Ms. Felber, Mr. Maissy 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.

Since Maissy and Felber have graduated, we no longer had standing to obtain the full redress to deal with the overall hostile environment on campus. In resolving the case, Berkeley has agreed to promulgate regulations dealing with the improper use on campus of fake but realistic weapons and to ensure that students are able to pass into and out of campus during demonstrations. These were issues central to the case.

Now, with Felber and Maissy no longer at Berkeley, we have called upon the Justice and Education Departments to investigate the hostile environment facing Jews at Berkeley. They have full authority to do so and we have provided voluminous evidence establishing that a hostile environment does indeed exist. Justice has investigated a racist atmosphere on the campus of U.C. San Diego and reached a resolution imposing upon the school strong monitoring and reporting requirements. As similar result is certainly warranted at Berkeley.

FP: Ok, thank you, so tell us the details about the complaint you and your colleague Joel Siegal filed with the Justice and Education Departments alleging violations of Title VI by U.C. Berkeley?

Sher: We filed the complaint with the Justice and Education Departments because once Felber and Maissy graduated, we lost the ability to effect changes to correct the hostile environment. In resolving the lawsuit, the university agreed to issue regulations regarding the use of fake looking weapons and allowing ingress and egress on campus during demonstrations. These are important issues during the infamous "Apartheid Week", where anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish activists resort to intimidation and harassment. It is also important to understand that the plaintiffs in the lawsuit were not pursuing the case to collect money. They wanted to correct an intolerable situation. In our complaint to Justice, it is alleged that Jewish students have been subjected to a pervasive hostile environment, which is impermissible under Title VI.

What are the main allegations in your complaint to Justice?

Sher: 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 Berkeley’s Passion Play, 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. Moreover, they have been authorized by the University to carry realistic looking assault weapons which they brandish as they interrogate innocent students on campus about their religious and ethnic backgrounds. All this in an effort to convey a portrayal that “all” Jews are blood-thirsty barbarians. Regrettably, the university has effectively put its imprimatur on this despicable behavior.

FP:Is there precedent for such action by the Justice Department?

There is. Recently the federal government undertook an in-depth inquiry into a hostile racist environment at U.C. San Diego. That investigation was precipitated by the offensive "Compton Cookout" of February 2010, during Black History Month. During that off-campus event, African Americans were portrayed in a racist and offensive stereotype. As a result of its intervention, earlier this year the Justice Department announced a Resolution Agreement with U.C. San Diego. The school is now subject to a series of strict reporting and educational requirements designed to eliminate the impermissible behavior. Schools which violate Title VI run the risk of forfeiting federal funds.

FP:Is the situation at San Diego comparable to that at Berkeley?

Sher: Like the “Compton Cookout” at San Diego, the BerkeleyApartheid Week/Passion Play is patently offensive and racist. Portraying Jews in such a fashion is as odious as the use of the "N" word and other similar racist and sexist stereotypes. Indeed, the Berkeley situation presents an even stronger case than that in San Diego, inasmuch as the offensive activities of Apartheid Week occurred on campus by registered student organizations with the permission and effective approval of University officials; the “Compton Cookout,” by comparison, was off campus with no official University involvement.

Jewish students at Berkeley should be entitled to the same protection and relief as were the African American students at San Diego.

I would also add that when the Republican student organization on the Berkeley campus sold baked goods at different prices as a demonstration against affirmative action, i.e. black students could buy a cup cake for 5 cents while the same cup cake cost a white student 50 cents, the University made a public statement that this was offensive.

When a fraternity at UC San Diego asked students to come dressed to a party as their favorite "nigga," the University held town meetings stating that was offensive. At a world class University like Yale, when a fraternity made pledges chant, “NO means Yes” and “Yes Means Anal,” Yale censored the fraternity.  Yet at Berkeley, when students are allowed to dress and parade as Jews, and to carry realistic looking assault weapons and brutalize students, the University is silent.

It is incumbent upon the Justice Department to require Berkeley to remedy this intolerable situation.

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

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