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Lawyers target UC Berkeley student groups’ ban on Zionist speakers

A federal civil rights complaint accuses UC Berkeley of an “act of discrimination against the Jewish community” by allowing groups of law students to pass regulations refusing to invite speakers who support Zionism.

The lawsuit filed last week by lawyers Gabriel Groisman and Arsen Ostrovsky equates anti-Zionism, which challenges the right of the State of Israel to exist in the Palestine region, with anti-Semitism.

Supporters of Palestinian rights say their opposition is not aimed at the Jewish people but at the treatment of Palestinians by the Israeli government.

Law Students for Justice in Palestine, a Berkeley graduate student group that describes itself as a “hotbed for education, discussion, and activism promoting the rights of the Palestinian people,” in August passed a settlement in its constitution stating that it “will not invite speakers who have expressed and continue to hold opinions or who organize/sponsor/promote events in support of Zionism, the apartheid State of Israel and the occupation of Palestine.

The settlement was also embraced by a number of other student groups, sparking an outpouring of criticism, including condemnations from UC Berkeley law dean Erwin Chemerinsky and the chairman of the board of trustees. UC, Richard Leib.

“Let’s be clear: In our university community, we should in no way exclude students because they believe in Israel’s right to exist,” Leib said at a board meeting in San Francisco. last week. “This exclusion is absolutely inconsistent with the central mission of the University of California.”

In an op-ed for The Times, Chemerinsky said he thought “the settlement is inconsistent with our values ​​as a law school,” but added that the right of 1st Amendment student groups to choose speakers based on their views was a “relatively simple” and constitutional right. question.

“For most Jews, including me, the existence of Israel and Zionism is an important part of our Jewish identity, and the settlement felt like anti-Semitism,” he wrote.

“Of course, student groups can decide which speakers to include based on their views,” he wrote. “Obviously, a group of college Republicans might decide to invite only conservative speakers. Requiring student groups to invite speakers of opinions they hate would violate the 1st Amendment as a form of forced speech.

“I wish student groups would not adopt such policies, but a public university cannot ban them,” he wrote.

The University of California board of trustees has looked into the matter in the past. In 2016, he condemned anti-Semitism and “anti-Semitic forms” of anti-Zionism.

Both Lieb and Chemerinsky noted that since the statutes were passed this year, students of color and Jewish and Muslim students have been harassed.

Chemerinsky wrote that “outside agitators” seized media attention around the regulations to target students.

In one instance, he wrote, a “right-wing group” outfitted a truck with a billboard saying, “If you want a free Jewish Berkeley, raise your right hand,” alongside a picture of Adolf Hitler.

Another truck drove up displaying the names of members of the student groups who had passed the settlement under a banner that read “Berkeley Law’s Antisemite Class of 2023,” Chemerinsky wrote, calling the targeting of students “despicable.”

In the complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Education, Groisman and Ostrovsky said the settlement violates Title VI of the federal Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin. in programs that receive federal assistance.

Chemerinsky declined to comment on specifics of the complaint, but said “those who claim the settlement is religious discrimination do not understand that it is written in terms of point of view, not religion.”

Los Angeles Times

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