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Office of Civil Rights opens investigation into UC Berkeley Law for anti-Zionism

An anti-Zionist bylaw enacted by student groups at the university violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, say the attorneys whose complaint sparked the inquiry.

Aerial view of buildings in the University of California, Berkeley campus. Credit: Sundry Photography/Shutterstock.
Aerial view of buildings in the University of California, Berkeley campus. Credit: Sundry Photography/Shutterstock.

The Office of Civil Rights for the U.S. Department of Education (OCR) has launched a formal investigation into UC Berkeley Law School over a controversial anti-Zionist bylaw adopted by some of its student groups in August.

The investigation comes in response to a Nov. 18 complaint filed by Gabriel Groisman, a Florida-based attorney and partner at LSN Law, P.A., and Arsen Ostrovsky, an Israel-based attorney and CEO of The International Legal Forum.

The attorneys argued that the bylaw violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act (1964), which prohibits recipients of federal funding from discriminating on the basis of “race, color, and national origin.”

It requested that the Office of Civil Rights “open an investigation against UC Berkeley Law, to direct it to immediately invalidate the bylaw in question.”

On Tuesday, the Office of Civil Rights agreed to investigate the “following issue”:

“Whether the University failed to respond appropriately in the fall 2022 semester to notice from Jewish law students, faculty, and staff that they experienced a hostile environment at the law school based on their shared Jewish ancestry when University-recognized student organizations passed a bylaw against inviting speakers who support ‘Zionism, the state of Israel, and the occupation of Palestine.'”

In response, Groisman and Ostrovsky stated, “We initiated this claim because we said ‘enough is enough’ and decided that we must stand up for the Jewish students at UC Berkeley, who have been facing an unprecedent wave of discrimination and antisemitism on campus.

“Anti-Zionism is antisemitism. Zionism is an integral component of the Jewish identity. 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.

“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.”

In August, Law Students for Justice in Palestine at Berkeley Law led the initiative in which nine student groups adopted a bylaw excluding Zionist speakers.

Those groups included: Berkeley Law Muslim Student Association; Middle Eastern and North African Law Students Association; Womxn of Color Collective (WOCC); Asian Pacific American Law Students Association; Queer Caucus; Community Defense Project; Women of Berkeley Law; and Law Students of African Descent.

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