Complaint filed against UC Berkeley Law for student anti-Zionist move

A number of law student groups at the law school amended their bylaws – promising never to invite a speaker who supports Zionism or Israel – at the start of the academic year.

UC Berkeley campus in California (photo credit: BRAINCHILDVN/FLICKR/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
UC Berkeley campus in California
(photo credit: BRAINCHILDVN/FLICKR/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

A complaint has been filed with the US Department of Education Office of Human Rights against University of California, Berkeley Law School, over an August 2022 decision of at least nine student groups to adopt a bylaw excluding Zionist speakers.

Gabriel Groisman, former Bal Harbour mayor and Florida-based attorney and partner at LSN Law PA and Arsen Ostrovsky, an Israel-based attorney and CEO of The International Legal Forum submitted the joint complaint.

The complaint alleges that the bylaw represents “profound and deep-seated antisemitic discrimination” against Jewish students, faculty and staff at UC Berkeley Law School. It was filed pursuant to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act (1964), which prohibits recipients of federal funding from discriminating on the basis of “race, color, and national origin,” and requests the Office of Civil Rights to open an investigation against the faculty, to invalidate the bylaw and adopt few additional remedies.

In October, a number of law student groups at the law school amended their bylaws – promising never to invite a speaker who supports Zionism or Israel – at the start of the academic year, according to a report by the Jewish Journal., according to a report by the Jewish Journal.

Anti-Israel protest at UC Berkeley  (credit: YOUTUBE SCREENSHOT/CROSSING THE LINE 2: THE NEW FACE OF ANTI-SEMITISM ON CAMPUS)Anti-Israel protest at UC Berkeley (credit: YOUTUBE SCREENSHOT/CROSSING THE LINE 2: THE NEW FACE OF ANTI-SEMITISM ON CAMPUS)

The anti-Zionist bylaw

The bylaw, led by the UC Berkeley’s Law Students for Justice in Palestine (LSJP) group, declared that not inviting pro-Zionist speakers was necessary for “the safety and welfare of Palestinian students on campus.”

The Jewish Students Association at Berkeley Law wrote in response: “Students should not be forced to choose between identifying as either ‘pro-Palestine’ and thereby ‘anti-Israel’ or ‘pro-Israel’ and thereby ‘anti-Palestine’... Students can advocate for Palestinians and criticize Israeli policies without denying Israel the right to exist or attacking the identity of other students.”

“Students should not be forced to choose between identifying as either ‘pro-Palestine’ and thereby ‘anti-Israel’ or ‘pro-Israel’ and thereby ‘anti-Palestine’... Students can advocate for Palestinians and criticize Israeli policies without denying Israel the right to exist or attacking the identity of other students.”

Jewish Students Association at Berkeley Law

“We cannot sit idly by while Jewish students are being discriminated against at UC Berkeley School of Law,” Groisman and Ostrovsky said on Sunday.

They added that “Title VI of the Civil Rights Act is meant to protect students from the exact kind of discriminatory actions that have been implemented at UC Berkeley. It is for this reason that we filed this Complaint. The groups that have implemented this discriminatory policy attempt to hide their discrimination against the Jewish community by excluding ‘Zionists.’ This thin veil is completely transparent as Zionism is an integral, indispensable and core element of the Jewish identity. There can be no equivocation: anti-Zionism is antisemitism.”

The two explained that “by effectively saying ‘Zionists not welcome,’ these student groups – and by extension UC Berkeley Law School – are excluding, marginalizing and silencing Jews, and only exacerbating what is already a deeply hostile environment for Jewish students, faculty and staff.”

The complaint specified that “the claim at hand concerns the profound and deep-seated antisemitism, and the racial, ethnic and religious discrimination directed against Jewish students, faculty and staff at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law, by the forced exclusion and prohibition of their participation in campus activities by at least nine recognized student organizations (RSOs), on the basis of their Jewish ethnic, religious, racial and/or national identity.”

Zionism refers to the Jewish people’s right to self-determination and liberation in their ancestral homeland, which has for millennia formed an integral part of Jewish identity.

Groisman and Ostrovsky claim that a rejection of those who identify as Zionists, “which is a vast, overwhelming majority of Jews,” is therefore no different to “excluding anyone else on the basis of their faith, shared ancestry or national origin.”

“The complaint acknowledges that the Dean of Berkeley Law School, Professor Erwin Chemerinsky, has condemned the adopted bylaw, noting that according to its framing, he too would be banned from speaking because he supports the existence of the State of Israel, however, it is alleged he has not taken any meaningful steps in response to this egregious act of discrimination, as required under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act,” they said.

Ostrovsky told The Jerusalem Post on Monday that the complaint is “the first such civil rights claim filed against UC Berkeley Law School, that centers the case on underscoring that because Zionism is an inherent part of Jewish identity, excluding Zionist students therefore is not a matter of free speech debate, but one of fundamental antisemitic discrimination, which is prohibited under federal law.”

Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.