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December 21, 2022 4:47 pm
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Department of Education Opens Investigation into Berkeley Law’s ‘Jew-Free Zones’

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avatar by Dion J. Pierre

Illustrative Anti-Israel protestors in Melbourne, Australia, c. 2021. Photo: Matt Hrkac/Wikimedia Commons.

The United States Department of Education (DOE) has launched an investigation of University of California, Berkeley, Law School over so-called “Jew-Free Zones” which banned Zionist speakers from campus events.

The agency announced last week that it will determine “whether the university failed to respond appropriately” when members of the campus Jewish community said they “experienced a hostile environment” after several student groups approved the bylaws disallowing Zionists from speaking at certain events.

Proposed by the law school’s Students for Justice in Palestine chapter in August, the Jew-Free Zones were part of a resolution endorsing the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement.

News of the bylaws, first passed in October, immediately prompted a storm of responses from Jewish and non-Jewish leaders across the political spectrum, as well as a New York Congressman who vowed to propose legislation that would strip University of California, Berkeley of its public funding.

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The DOE’s Dec. 15 decision comes in response to a civil rights complaint filed by Arsen Ostrovsky of the International Legal Forum and Florida-based attorney Gabriel Groisman.

The complaint called on the Department of Education to investigate the university for “profound and deep-seated antisemitic discrimination” under violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which bars discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in federally-funded programs.

“Anti-Zionism is antisemitism,” Ostrovsky told The Algemeiner. “At the core of our case is the fact that Zionism is something that is an integral and indispensable part of our Jewish identity. So, therefore, this issue is not about the First Amendment and free speech but an issue of basic discrimination and denial of equal rights to Jews, students first and foremost but also faculty and staff as well.”

“We got to the point where we said enough is enough,” he continued. “We cannot sit idly by while Jewish students are being discriminated against openly and blatantly, and we need to act.”

Ostrovsky also said that news of the “Jew-Free Zones” was unsurprising. Students for Justice in Palestine chapters at dozens of universities have launched similar efforts aimed at silencing Zionists on campus, “putting students some of them who are undergrads in the most untenable of situations,” he added, while urging UC Berkeley to abolish the bylaws and adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, which lists anti-Zionist discrimination as an example of Jew-hatred.

The DOE’s complaint comes just over a month after AMCHA Initiative, a nonprofit monitoring antisemitism in higher education, issued a report finding that over 250 incidents of anti-Zionist antisemitism occurred on college campuses during the 2021-2022 academic year.

The report cited dozens of antisemitic incidents — of which Harvard University had the most — falling under its categories, including the expulsion of two Jewish women from a support group for sexual assault survivors at SUNY New Paltz, Harvard University’s campus newspaper endorsing the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement and its claim that “Zionism is Racism,” and a campaign against so-called “S***** Zionist Classes” organized by the University of Chicago’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter.

Jewish groups have also asked the US Department of Education to issue new legal regulations which would protect Jewish students from anti-Zionist discrimination and harassment under the Civil Rights Act. But an Executive Order issued by former President Donald Trump in 2019 directing the department’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) to do so has not yet led to any new policy directives under the Biden administration.

Follow reporter Dion J. Pierre at @DionJPierre.

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