Federal courts are now being asked to step in and order prevention of bigotry and open hatred on California college campuses because leading university officials have failed to stop frequent hate incidents.
That’s the upshot of a late November lawsuit against the University of California trying to stem some of the outright bigotry, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia that has invaded higher education here since the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre and kidnapping of more than 1,500 Israelis and the ensuing war in Gaza.
Top university officials at UC and elsewhere have issued pious statements lamenting prejudice, meant to placate all sides, but have not slowed the spread of bigotry that began long before Oct. 7 and accelerated exponentially afterward.
UC President Michael V. Drake and chancellors of all its campuses vowed to make their schools safe again for Jewish and Muslim students, putting up $7 million for voluntary classes and committees to end “acts of bigotry, intolerance and intimidation.” So far, that’s been about as successful as most government committees.
“There is no place for hate, bigotry and intimidation at the University of California, period,” went the UC leaders’ statement. “Anti-Semitism is antithetical to our values and our campus codes of conduct…It will not be tolerated…Similarly, Islamophobia is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.”
Yet the incidents persist at UC and elsewhere. Many Jewish and Palestinian students have said they now fear going onto prominent campuses where they must attend classes in order to graduate. Yet, no student has yet been expelled from any California university this fall for the kind of actions and speech the UC leaders decried.
That, says the Washington, D.C.-based Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, led it to sue the UC Board of Regents, Drake, UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ and other officials for the “longstanding, unchecked spread of anti-Semitism” at Berkeley that has resulted in “a hotbed of anti-Jewish hostility and harassment.”
Even with its wider implications, the suit zeroes in on Berkeley Law, where 23 student groups operating with at least some state funding now prohibit participation by anyone with Zionist sympathies. The suit also reported for the first time some dramatic incidents of intimidation, harassment and physical violence against Jewish students. So far, no one has reported a similar series of offenses against Muslim or Arab students.
Among the Berkeley episodes cited was one where two protesters struck a Jewish student in the head with a metal water bottle while he walked past a pro-Hamas rally. Jewish students and faculty have received hate mail that evoked the Holocaust by calling for their gassing and murder. Pro-Hamas protesters disrupted a Jewish prayer meeting and then honored Hamas “martyrs” killed while “butchering Jewish civilians.”
Similar incidents began long before October, the lawsuit notes. As far back as 2016, Palestinian students set up a mock roadblock near a Berkeley campus entrance, accosting anyone walking past they thought was Jewish with realistic-looking weapons made from thick cardboard. At UCLA, a pro-Israel Jewish student was intimidated by Palestinians and supporters into giving up a student government office to which she had been elected. No similar episodes have targeted Palestinian activists or their campus supporters, although some alumni have lately said they won’t hire those students in the future.
Jewish students charged in the lawsuit that Berkeley “does so little to protect (them), it feels as if the school is condoning anti-Semitism.”
Said Kenneth Marcus, Brandeis Center chairman and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education in the George W. Bush and Trump administrations, “This is a direct result of Berkeley’s leadership repeatedly turning a blind eye to unfettered Jew-hatred. The school is quick to address other types of hatred; why not anti-Semitism?”
Marcus added that Berkeley, “once a beacon of free speech…and equal treatment of persons, regardless of race, religion…and ethnicity, is heading down a very different and dangerous path.”
University officials now have ample time and opportunity to respond and prevent federal intervention. They could create a policy of expelling students who repeatedly act out or encourage hatred. No California campus has yet done this, but for UC and others, it would be a major statement that they mean business when they say they won’t tolerate bigotry.
Email Thomas Elias at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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