Education Department To Probe ‘Jewish-Free Zones’ at Berkeley’s Law School

Student groups at the campus adopted a bylaw barring from their events speakers who support ‘Zionism, the apartheid state of Israel, and the occupation of Palestine.’

AP/Eric Risberg
Students walk through Sproul Plaza on the University of California, Berkeley campus. AP/Eric Risberg

One of the nation’s most prestigious law schools is under investigation by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights for purported banning Zionist speakers on campus by creating what the former head of that office has dubbed “Jewish-Free Zones.”

In August, nine student groups, including Students for Justice in Palestine, at the University of California at Berkeley law school adopted a bylaw barring from their events speakers who support “Zionism, the apartheid state of Israel, and the occupation of Palestine.”

In November, two lawyers, Arsen Ostrovsky and Gabriel Groisman, filed a complaint to the Office of Civil Rights alleging, on the basis of the ban, “profound and deep-seated antisemitic discrimination” at UC-Berkeley. 

“Antizionism is antisemitism. Zionism is an integral component of the Jewish identity,” the lawyers said in a statement following the Department of Education’s announcement. “By discriminating against ‘Zionists,’ the registered student groups, and by extension UC Berkeley Law School, are discriminating against the Jewish community, in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.”

Title VI is the section of the Civil Rights Act that prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or nationality at schools receiving federal funding.

The student groups’ move came under criticism from students, professors, and administrators — including the chairman of the University of California’s Board of Regents, Richard Leib, and the law school’s dean, Ewin Chemerinsky.

Despite the criticism from on high, the university declined to take  action, citing what it claimed it saw as the student groups’ First Amendment rights.

“For most Jews, including me, the existence of Israel and Zionism are an important part of our Jewish identity, and the bylaw was felt as antisemitism,” Mr. Chemerinsky told the Los Angeles Times. “I wish student groups would not adopt such policies, but a public university cannot prohibit them.”

He later told the same paper that “those who claim that the bylaw is religious discrimination miss the point that it is written in terms of viewpoint, not religion.”

Messrs. Ostrovsky and Groisman applauded the Department of Education’s decision to investigate their complaint in a statement Thursday.

“We are confident that the OCR will do the right thing and ultimately hold UC Berkeley Law School accountable and protect the Jewish students on campus from these discriminatory acts,” they said.


The New York Sun

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