UC-Berkeley law school under federal investigation after Zionist speakers banned

Several University of California, Berkeley Law School student organizations made a pledge to boycott Zionist and pro-Israel speakers

The U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights is opening an investigation into the University of California, Berkeley Law School over its response to several student organizations who adopted a pledge to not invite any Zionist or pro-Israel speaker to give lectures.

Law Students for Justice in Palestine at Berkeley Law wrote in an Aug. 21 Instagram post that nine student organizations adopted a "pro-Palestine bylaw" stating that their group "will not" invite speakers who hold views in support of Zionism or "the apartheid state of Israel."

Berkeley Law Muslim Student Association, Middle Eastern and North African Law Students Association, Womxn of Color Collective, Asian Pacific American Law Students Association, Queer Caucus, Community Defense Project, Women of Berkeley Law, and Law Students of African Descent were among the student organizations who signed the Law Students for Justice in Palestine at Berkeley Law pledge.

CALIFORNIA, BERKELEY UNIVERSITY LAW SCHOOL STUDENT ORGS PLEDGE TO BOYCOTT ZIONIST, PRO-ISRAEL SPEAKERS

University of California, Berkeley entrance sign on the corner of Oxford Street and Center Street at Berkeley, California.

University of California, Berkeley entrance sign on the corner of Oxford Street and Center Street at Berkeley, California. (iStock)

A complaint was filed with the Department of Education on Nov. 18 by Gabriel Groisman, an attorney at LSN Law in Miami, and Arsen Ostrovsky, attorney and CEO at International Legal Forum in Tel Aviv, Israel.

The complaint alleges that while Berkeley Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky condemned the proposed bylaw, he didn't take enough action which is necessary as part of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.

"Although we acknowledge that Professor Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean of Berkeley Law School, has condemned the adopted by-law, describing it as 'very troubling' and noting that according to their framing, he too would be banned because he supports the existence of the State of Israel, he has neither called for their revocation, nor has he taken any meaningful action in response to this egregious act of discrimination, as required under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act," the complaint letter states.

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Signage for the Berkeley School of Law on the University of California, Berkeley campus in Berkeley, California, U.S., on Friday, June 4, 2021.

Signage for the Berkeley School of Law on the University of California, Berkeley campus in Berkeley, California, U.S., on Friday, June 4, 2021. (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The pair of lawyers received a letter from the Department of Education on Tuesday, stating that its Office for Civil Rights will be investigating the issue to determine if the university "failed to respond appropriately" to the incident.

In an Aug. 25 email to leaders of all student organizations, Chemerinsky harshly criticized the bylaw and said he wouldn't be invited to speak at these organizations if the pledge was applied.

"It is troubling to broadly exclude a particular viewpoint from being expressed. Indeed, taken literally, this would mean that I could not be invited to speak because I support the existence of Israel, though I condemn many of its policies," Chemerinsky said.

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UC Berkeley law school dean Erwin Chemerinsky at his home in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, January 19, 2021. 

UC Berkeley law school dean Erwin Chemerinsky at his home in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, January 19, 2021.  (Carlos Avila Gonzalez/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)

In a statement on Thursday, Groisman and Ostrovsky applauded the Department of Education's decision to open an investigation.

"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 unprecedented wave of discrimination and antisemitism on campus. Antizionism 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," they said.

A spokesperson for the University of California, Berkeley Law School told Fox News Digital that the school will cooperate with the investigation.

"UC Berkeley has been informed by the Department of Education that an investigation has been opened into allegations that the university's response to a bylaw adopted by Berkeley Law student organizations violated Title VI. The university will fully cooperate with the investigation. The campus has in place strong anti-discrimination policies that support our belief in and compliance with what we understand to be the values and obligations enshrined in Title VI and the First Amendment," the spokesperson said.