UC Berkeley campus
UC Berkeley campusiStock

The University of California, Berkeley was sued on Tuesday by Jewish groups who said it has become a hotbed of "unchecked" antisemitism, including at its elite law school, Reuters reported.

According to a complaint by the nonprofit Louis D. Brandeis Center, UC Berkeley's leadership turns a blind eye to the long-festering problem of antisemitism on campus, even after displays of harassment and physical violence against Jews following Hamas' October 7 attack on Israel.

The complaint, which was filed in San Francisco federal court, described two protesters striking the head of a Jewish undergraduate draped in an Israeli flag with a metal water bottle, and how a faculty member allegedly cut short a class for 1,000 freshmen to go on an 18-minute anti-Israel rant.

The complaint also said that "no fewer" than 23 law school groups have anti-Jewish policies. It said these include requirements that invited speakers repudiate Zionism, and Jewish students wanting to provide pro bono legal services undergo "Palestine 101" training that emphasizes Israel's supposed illegitimacy.

In a statement responding to the lawsuit, UC Berkeley said it has long been committed to confronting antisemitism, and that while it cannot censor offensive speech it recognized that some demonstrations have been "upsetting and frightening" to Jewish students.

"While we appreciate the concerns expressed by the Brandeis Center, UC Berkeley believes the claims made in the lawsuit are not consistent with the First Amendment of the Constitution, or the facts of what is actually happening on our campus," the university said, as quoted by Reuters.

The lawsuit says UC Berkeley's "inaction" violates the plaintiffs' religious and equal protection rights under the Constitution and federal civil rights laws.

It seeks a permanent injunction requiring that UC Berkeley end the hostile environment toward Jews, enforce its nondiscrimination policies, and neither fund nor recognize student groups that exclude Jews.

The lawsuit comes two weeks after three Jewish students sued New York University (NYU), accusing the school of creating a hostile environment in which Jewish students are subjected to pervasive antisemitic hatred, discrimination, harassment and intimidation.

In a complaint filed in Manhattan federal court, the plaintiffs, all juniors, said antisemitism had been a "growing institutional problem" at NYU even before the war between Israel and Hamas began last month, and has since gotten worse.

US campuses have seen an increase in acts of antisemitism since the start of Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza.

Earlier this month, a 21-year-old student was charged with assault after he punched one person and slammed the thumb of another during a pro-Israel demonstration at New York University’s main library.

At Cornell University, a professor said he was “exhilarated” by Hamas’ attack on Israel, and declared that “Hamas has challenged the monopoly of violence”. The professor, Russell Rickford, later apologized.

Also at Cornell, a student was criminally charged after allegedly making threats of a mass shooting and antisemitic violence.

In another incident, Jewish students at Cooper Union College in New York City were forced to lock themselves inside the library as a mob of anti-Israeli protesters blocked the doors.

About 40 minutes later, security escorted the students out of the building via a tunnel.