One of the campus buildings at the University of California, Berkeley. Photo: Max Pixel/Creative Commons.
In August 2022, at UC Berkeley Law School, student groups, led by Berkeley Law Students for Justice in Palestine (LSJP) adopted a bylaw prohibiting invitations to “speakers that have expressed and continued to hold views … in support of Zionism.” This bylaw is part of the global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, which seeks the destruction of Israel and in the U.S. seeks to ostracize Jewish students from campus discourse and political life.
StandWithUs is working with allied organizations, students and faculty at Berkeley to support any and all action that helps expose and punish wrongdoers, holds school officials accountable, and defends the rights of Jewish students. StandWithUs is a signatory on a new coalition letter of leading Jewish and pro-Israel groups calling on Berkeley Law School to “immediately take all lawful and necessary steps” to compel student groups to rescind the antisemitic provisions of their bylaws.
At the same time, as StandWithUs is helping move the situation at Berkeley through public pressure, we are also exploring legal options. Anti-Israel groups frequently use “Zionist” as a stand-in for “Jew” to enable them to stigmatize and discriminate against Jewish students while pretending they are merely criticizing Zionism. Yet for the majority of Jews, Zionism—support for Israel's existence and the right of Jews to self-determination in their ancestral home—is central to their Jewish ethnic and religious identity. When Jews are discriminated against under the guise of “Zionism,” they are being discriminated against for being Jewish. StandWithUs is at the forefront of efforts to enforce Jewish student rights and combat any attempts at discrimination against Jewish identity by using the cover of “Zionism.”
Anti-Israel campus groups blatantly expose their hypocrisy and bigotry when they deny the Jewish right to self-determination in Israel while advocating the same right for Palestinians. While claiming to champion diversity and inclusion, anti-Israel activists in fact seek to silence and exclude Jews and to enforce a monolithically anti-Israel conversation about the Jewish state.
A significant amount of antisemitism from anti-Israel campus groups falls in the realm of constitutionally protected—albeit bigoted—speech. When this happens, it is critical that school officials condemn it publicly and by name—something which Berkeley Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky has done. When student groups formally codify antisemitic protocols, we expect the response of the administration to go further.
This goes hand in hand with carefully documenting cases where hate speech and activism descend into discriminatory treatment of Jewish students or creates a pervasively hostile environment for Jewish students, which is not constitutionally protected.
Supporters of Jewish students on campuses want to know what can be done. The answer is to keep using our voices and resources to:
Expose cases of discrimination and hate.
Encourage administrations to respond by condemning bigotry, holding perpetrators accountable, and committing additional resources to education about antisemitism.
Support students who need help and encourage them to raise their voices.
Keep monitoring the situation, including the impact on the campus climate (i.e., Jewish students feeling marginalized or even unsafe).
Be ready to act the moment legal or other action is warranted.
If students, faculty, or other stakeholders report that the campus climate is impacted in a pervasively hostile way, we are here to help them document all contributing factors so that their concerns could enable filing a Title VI complaint with the U.S. Department of Education. StandWithUs is committed to continuing to provide legal and other strategic tools to empower students to combat campus antisemitism whenever it manifests, including at UC Berkeley Law School.
For additional potential legal issues that the StandWithUs Saidoff Legal Department is monitoring on campuses, see our recent letter to nearly 3,000 university presidents. To learn more about the StandWithUs Saidoff Legal Department, please visit www.standwithus.com/legal.