August 20, 2019

Pro-Israel Students File Complaint to Department of Education About SJP Vigil at Berkeley

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Pro-Israel students have filed a complaint to the Department of Education (DOE) regarding UC Berkeley’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter’s upcoming vigil equating the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh to the situation in the Gaza Strip.

As the Journal has previously reported, Berkeley’s SJP and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) are hosting a vigil on Nov. 22 that commemorates the 11 dead at the Pittsburgh shooting and three Gaza children who died in an Israeli strike. Attorney Joel Siegal, who is representing the pro-Israel students, wrote in a letter to the DOE’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) that the vigil creates “a false moral equivalency.”

“The death of civilians in Gaza, an area in the world where there is military conflict and where civilian death is unfortunate but at times collateral to military operations, is a false equivalency,” Siegal wrote to OCR Civil Rights Attorney Alexis Turzan. “It is anti-Semitic.”

Siegal added that the vigil portrays “Israel as a barbarian and racist nation,” which falls under the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism that was recently adopted by the DOE.

“This is clearly the purpose of the false moral equivalence created here on the UC Berkeley campus,” Siegal wrote. “It is anti-Semitic and creates a pervasive hostile environment for Jewish students on Campus.”

Siegal noted at the end of the letter that he will be meeting with Turzan on Nov. 16.

UC Berkeley Assistant Vice Chancellor Dan Mogulof told the Journal that the vigil currently doesn’t have a set location, meaning that if it takes place off campus, then the university is not responsible for it.

Siegal, however, told the Journal in a phone interview that it is irrelevant whether the vigil takes place on or off campus, citing the “Compton Cookout” incident in 2010 involving members of a UC San Diego fraternity off-campus that resulted in a 2012 settlement between the university and the Departments of Justice and Education as precedent.

The SJP vigil complaint is an amendment to an Oct. 22 complaint from students from the pro-Israel UC Berkeley group Tikvah, represented by Siegal and Neal Sher, calling on the DOE to investigate flyers that permeated campus blaming Jews for the sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. The complaint called for the DOE to determine if students were involved in the distribution of those flyers and to see how thoroughly the university investigated the manner.

Sher, the former head of the Office of Special Investigations in the Department of Justice, told the Journal in a phone interview that by equating the Pittsburgh shooting to Gaza, SJP is calling Israelis “mass murderers.”

“I think it requires a very strong response from the administration, and by that I mean they should be expelled,” Sher said. “It’s very simple: they expel fraternities in universities all over the country for hazing, for different violations of student codes, and inciting blatant anti-Semitism cannot be condoned.”

Sher added, “If there was a group on campus that was perpetuating all the disgusting tropes about the African-Americans or the homosexuals, how long do you think they would last on campus?”

This article has been updated.