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Anti-Semitism Complaint Against Berkeley K-12 Schools

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The Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law and ADL (the Anti-Defamation League) today expanded their complaint against the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD), sounding the alarm that the already hostile environment for Jewish students is taking a frightening turn for the worse.

In February, the two organizations filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) against the Berkeley school district for failing to take action to end the nonstop bullying and harassment of Jewish students by peers and teachers. Incidents included calls to “kill the Jews” and “eliminate Israel” and Jewish students being asked what “their number is,” referring to Nazi concentration camps, derided for their physical appearance, or told “I don’t like your people” and “Of course it was the Jews.” During an unauthorized teacher-promoted walkout for Palestine, no teachers intervened as students shouted, “Kill the Jews,” “KKK,” “Kill Israel,” and “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”

The complaint documented how BUSD teachers are weaponizing disciplines such as art and history to promote anti-Semitic tropes about Israel. At Berkeley High School, a history teacher screened an anti-Zionist video and forced students to analyze Israel as an apartheid state. This teacher sharply squelched dissent, stating that materials that oppose the apartheid narrative are “laughable.” A high school art teacher showed students violent pro-Hamas videos and displayed anti-Israel and anti-Semitic images during class, including a fist punching through a Star of David. Indoctrination attempts occur in classes for young children. In one second-grade classroom, a teacher hung a Palestinian flag in the window and encouraged students to write “Stop Bombing Babies” on sticky notes to be posted next to the classroom of the only Jewish teacher.

At the time, Jewish students reported being worried about mob violence, including being “jumped” at school. Many said they removed their Stars of David and no longer wear Jewish camp t-shirts, and that they were learning to keep their heads down, hide their Judaism, and move through their school days in fear. Some students left the district due to this pervasive bullying.

After three additional months of silence and inaction from Berkeley authorities, according to the Brandeis Center and ADL, the environment has become even more hostile and threatening.  For example, since the original complaint was filed:

·       “Kill Jews” was scrawled in a Berkeley High School bathroom. BUSD did not issue a statement denouncing Jewish hatred or expressing a zero-tolerance policy for threats of violence against Jewish members of the school community.

·       “Kill all Zionists” was written at the bus stop used by many Berkeley High School students to get to and from school; the hateful vandalism remained for days after it was reported. Again, BUSD made no statement denouncing the violent and threatening rhetoric against the Jewish and Israeli members of the school community.

·       A first-grader heard older children on the playground saying “Jews are stupid.” The six-year-old told his mother that he wished he were not Jewish because people do not like Jews. Since the incident, he has not wanted to go to school. Instead of intervening, the school principal suggested the six-year-old speak with the older bullies to resolve the problem.

·       A ninth-grader faced bullying and taunting after his parent reported anti-Semitic incidents. On a public and widely circulated social media post, an upper-level high school student targeted the Jewish ninth-grader, calling him a “dumbass” who is “blatantly lying cuz he loves genocide that much.” This message was then re-posted by other students and received countless views. BUSD took no discernable action in response.

·       The art teacher who created a hostile environment for Jewish and Israeli students was finally put on leave after dozens of major media outlets, including CNN, reported on the anti-Semitism in his classroom. Since then, posters have appeared tacked on walls all over the high school building with an image of the teacher and the caption “Bring Mr. ____ Back.” Instead of addressing the inappropriate posters, the principal sent “shoutouts” to all students and faculty, praising the teacher.

·       During a cooking lesson on Palestinian food, a seventh-grade teacher forced her students to listen to a podcast that demonized Israel and the Jews, included false information, and presented a libelous narrative about Israelis “stealing” land, appropriating recipes, and engaging in “ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.” This type of propaganda not only demonizes and damages the Jewish and Israeli students in the class, it instills a hatred of Israel and Jews into all students, perpetuating the cycle of anti-Semitic hostility throughout the District. When parents complained, the school failed to respond.

·       In March, a high school teacher posted political propaganda in her classroom including a QR code for a Gaza Genocide Action Toolkit that accuses Israel of genocide, and tells readers to support the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) movement, which seeks the elimination of Israel, to “make sure everyone knows that Israel is mass murdering Palestinian families with our tax dollars,” and to tell Congress “they have blood on their hands.” It also characterizes the ADL as “a right-wing organization that uses inflammatory, racist rhetoric to mislead the public, cover up Israel’s war crimes, and smear activists for Palestinian rights.”

·       Ethnic Studies teachers began presenting unapproved, biased, and anti-Semitic propaganda in the classroom that further marginalizes Jewish and Israeli students.  A vocabulary list given to students defines “Anti-Zionist” as a person who “believe[s] in a future where all people on the land live in freedom, safety, and equality;” Hamas as an “Islamic Resistance Movement;” and Hamas’ brutal acts of terror as “armed resistance.” The list includes terms like “apartheid,” “ethnic cleansing,” “occupation,” and “settler colonialism,” which are commonly used to demonize Israel.

·       A group of BUSD teachers wrote an inflammatory and divisive letter to the school board after the Brandeis Center/ADL complaint was filed, characterizing parents who reported incidents of anti-Semitism at BUSD as “extreme” community members and “oppressors,” and labeling their efforts to protect their children as “part of the Zionist playbook.”   They also asserted that “[t]he ADL is known as ‘Israel’s attack dogs’ in the US.”

·       A “BUSD for a Ceasefire in Palestine” walkout, promoted by teachers, took place during school hours at Berkeley High School. School resources and facilities were used to organize the walkout and staff attended along with students.

·       While posters displaying anti-Israel propaganda and promoting anti-Semitism are left untouched, posters condemning anti-Semitism and supporting Israel’s right to exist are ripped down from the hallways of Berkeley High School without investigation or consequences.

“Dereliction of duty doesn’t even come close to describing what we are seeing in Berkeley; it is disgusting and shameful,” stated Kenneth L. Marcus, founder and chairman of the Brandeis Center and the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights for the George W. Bush and Donald Trump administrations. “The Berkeley Superintendent and the School Board are either completely incompetent or are willfully ignoring their job. If even one of these incidents happened to any other minority group it would be promptly addressed, with consequences, not ignored and permitted to snowball out of control when it comes to the safety of Jewish students.”

“The blatant disregard by BUSD of this continuing anti-Semitic harassment, bullying, and rhetoric is inexcusable,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, ADL CEO. “Jewish students are hiding their identities and are afraid to go to school – this is outrageous, unacceptable, and should not be happening in 2024. The Berkeley School District must be held accountable for their inaction and seeming indifference to addressing this hostile school environment and do more to ensure the safety of Jewish students.”


UP-DATE May 9-2024

COMPLAINTS FILED AGAINST POMONA & OCCIDENTAL COLLEGES

Since 10/7, Jewish and Israeli students on both campuses have been verbally harassed and physically surrounded, followed, threatened, and intimidated by protestors.  They have been shouted at, told to “go back to the gas chambers,” and called “kike,” “f**king Jew,” “f**king Zionist,” and “murderer.”  Many have been obstructed from moving freely about campus carrying out their jobs or partaking in educational opportunities as a result of anti-Semitic bullying, and some have even been physically assaulted. Many Jewish students confine themselves to their dorm rooms or refrain from participating in certain educational and, or extracurricular activities, avoiding certain dining halls or cafés, common areas on campus, and campus events to avoid anti-Semitic harassment. Several have transferred to other schools due to persistent anti-Semitism.

“Jewish students on these campuses are hiding in their dorms and avoiding their campus rather than risk verbal and physical attacks,” stated Kenneth L. Marcus, founder and chairman of the Brandeis Center and the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights.  “Pomona and Occidental know full well this is happening.  But instead of enforcing the law and their policies, they are caving to the anti-Semitic mob and letting them bully, harass, and intimidate Jewish students.  Anti-Semitism left unaddressed will not go away.  It will only snowball and escalate until the problem is faced head-on as the law requires.”

“There’s simply no excuse for the persistent and pervasive antisemitic harassment being faced by Jewish students at Occidental and Pomona colleges,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, ADL CEO and National Director. “No student should be forced to transfer due to continual harassment. We urge the U.S. Department of Education to investigate these schools for potential civil rights violations and to take effective measures to protect Jewish students on these campuses.”

Occidental College

Occidental is fully aware of the pervasive and hostile environment for Jewish students, and has ignored and enabled it.

The complaint details how Jewish students were forced out of school-sponsored employment opportunities due to severe and pervasive anti-Semitic environments.  Many Jewish students chose to leave their jobs rather than continue to subject themselves to anti-Semitic attacks, Holocaust inversion, and harassment while others chose to take unsafe routes home rather than continue to be harassed.

At every turn, Occidental has put its Jewish students last, swiftly enforcing policies against its Jewish students while continuing to ignore the same or similar violations from the anti-Israel and anti-Semitic crowd. Jewish students are harassed and obstructed daily on campus, in their dorms, in the dining hall, and more. One particularly egregious incident occurred when anti-Semitic protests occupied and vandalized the central administrative building for nearly a week. Despite several warnings to the trespassing students and staff, Occidental forwent enforcing school policies and instead capitulated to the occupiers’ demands. Occidental sent a clear message – when the victims of violations are Jewish, the rules will not be enforced.

Faculty at Occidental have also played a role in encouraging the anti-Semitic environment.  One professor told her students she felt “invigorated” by the Hamas terrorist attack and encouraged students to share her excitement.  Others have participated in pro-Hamas chanting and made anti-Semitic statements. More than 60 faculty members sent an email denying that Hamas’ actions were terrorism.  The school has said nothing to condemn these anti-Semitic declarations, sending a green light to students that this behavior is permitted.

Pomona College

The already hostile environment for Jewish students at Pomona took a turn for the worse immediately following the October 7 terrorist attack with various student groups and members of the faculty loudly supporting the murderous Hamas attacks, blaming the Israeli victims, and creating a shrine honoring the Hamas terrorists. Pomona students blocked access to buildings, interfered with classes and school events, and harassed current and prospective students.  At first, the Pomona administration did very little to remedy the hostile environment. But as the situation deteriorated, President G. Gabrielle Starr eventually began to respond.  But despite her laudable, albeit belated efforts to address growing antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiment on campus, Pomona failed to eliminate the hostile environment, in part, because the opposition from pro-Hamas students and faculty had already grown too strong.

Multiple incidents of physical violence and intimidation occurred during the numerous explicitly pro-Hamas protests that took place at Pomona.  For example, during one demonstration, protestors surrounded Jewish students who were putting up posters of hostages, physically preventing them from hanging the posters.  The protestors then followed the Jewish students and a Jewish adult staff member, obstructed their paths, verbally harassed them, and tore up at least 300 of the Jewish students’ pre-approved flyers.  Later that day a protestor saw one of the Jewish students and aggressively pushed him into a wall. The Jewish student was then tailed by other protestors who threatened and intimidated him. The school has taken no action and school security has even refused to watch security footage of the protest incident. Most Jewish students sheltered in in their dorms or left campus entirely for their safety, missing classes to avoid the physically hostile demonstrators.

Another protest was so disruptive, including loud antisemitic chants and the blocking of entrances, forcing President Starr to cancel her Family Weekend Address. During another protest, when a student tried to move past the demonstrators to attend the Harry Potter Dinner, an annual Pomona tradition, the demonstrators blocked and grabbed him. Protestors have also disrupted and harassed prospective student tours to such a degree that one prospective student started sobbing. The message was clear: Jewish families and Jewish students are not welcome at Pomona.  During a recent protest, President Starr had to call the police to protect herself and the Pomona community at large, resulting in nineteen arrests for criminal trespass and obstruction of justice. This conduct has ensued despite President Starr’s warnings to the Pomona community, her attempts to impose order on campus, and her efforts to offer support to the victimized Jewish and Israeli students.

“I have seen anti-Semitism here grow tremendously in the last 3 years,” stated Pomona student, Ayelet Kleinerman. “I have raised it with the administration many times, but even when they had the opportunity to take it seriously, they didn’t. They’ve called the police for their own safety, but they are not doing enough to protect Jewish students.  From hate speech to retaliation in class and outside it to the mob that is occupying our campus and has taken over much of campus life, Jewish students are scared.”


Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on race, color, and national origin, including discrimination against Jews based on their actual or perceived shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics, in educational institutions that receive federal funding.  Under the law, harassing, marginalizing, demonizing, and excluding Jewish students based on the Zionist component of their Jewish identity is unlawful. UNESCO has cautioned that “Jew” and “Zionist” are often used interchangeably today in an attempt by anti-Semites to cloak their hate. President Biden’s U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism, released in May 2023, observed that “Jewish students and educators are targeted for derision and exclusion on college campuses, often because of their real or perceived views about the State of Israel.  When Jews are targeted because of their beliefs or their identity, when Israel is singled out because of anti-Jewish hatred, that is antisemitism. And that is unacceptable.”

Brandeis Center LogoThe Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law is an independent, unaffiliated, nonprofit corporation established to advance the civil and human rights of the Jewish people and promote justice for all. LDB engages in research, education, and legal advocacy to combat the resurgence of anti-Semitism on college and university campuses, in the workplace, and elsewhere. It empowers students by training them to understand their legal rights and educates administrators and employers on best practices to combat racism and anti-Semitism. More at www.brandeiscenter.com

ADL_LogoADL is the leading anti-hate organization in the world. Founded in 1913, its timeless mission is “to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all.” Today, ADL continues to fight all forms of antisemitism and bias, using innovation and partnerships to drive impact. A global leader in combating antisemitism, countering extremism, and battling bigotry wherever and whenever it happens, ADL works to protect democracy and ensure a just and inclusive society for all. See More at www.adl.org.

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