July 15, 2019

CSU to Acknowledge Zionism’s Role in Jewish Identity

Photo from Flickr.

The California State University (CSU) system on March 20 agreed to a settlement in a 2018 lawsuit that includes issuing a statement acknowledging Zionism’s importance to Jewish identity.

The case, Volk v. Board of Trustees,  was filed on Jan. 30, 2018, in San Francisco Superior Court, and involved one recent graduate from San Francisco State University (SFSU), Charles Volk, and current SFSU student Liam Kern, alleging that SFSU and the CSU Board of Trustees discriminated against them when the campus Hillel was excluded from participating in the campus “Know Your Rights” fair in February 2017, whose goal was to inform students on possible threats to their rights on campus. Volk and Kern were regular attendees at Hillel events and wanted to participate in the fair as part of the organization. SFSU acknowledged in July 2017 that the fair’s organizers deliberately excluded Hillel from the fair; no action was taken against the organizers. Volk and Kern each filed a complaint to CSU’s Risk Management and Public Safety Department  on May 2017 and August 2017, respectively, on the matter; both were denied.

Volk and Kern, who were represented by the Lawfare Project, argued Hillel’s exclusion from the fair and that the lack of action from SFSU and the CSU system constituted a violation of California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act, which states “that government entities, including state universities, refrain from taking actions that suppress the rights of students or deprive any students of full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges, or services based on their religion, race, ancestry, or certain other characteristics,” according to the original lawsuit.

According to a copy of the settlement obtained by the Journal, CSU will issue a statement stating that it will protect the rights of all students at SFSU, including Jewish and pro-Israel students, and will acknowledge that “for many Jews, Zionism is an important part of their identity.”

SFSU also will be required to hire a Coordinator for Jewish Student Life within the Division of Equity and Community Inclusion, refer any cases of religious discrimination to an outside investigator, and allocate $200,000 toward “educational outreach efforts to promote viewpoint diversity (including but not limited to pro-Israel or Zionist viewpoints) and inclusion and equity on the basis of religious identity (including but not limited to Jewish religious identity).”

As part of the settlement, the June 2017 Mandel v. Board of Trustees federal lawsuit, which alleged that SFSU enabled anti-Semitism on campus and hence violated Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, will be dropped.

“We are pleased that we reached common ground on steps for moving forward.” — Mary Kenny

Volk told the Journal in a phone interview that he was “in shock, in a great way” about the settlement.

“I can’t believe it’s actually happened,” Volk said, adding that he hoped to see “the changes on San Francisco State’s campus, as well as other campuses that have the same issue.”

Brooke Goldstein, executive director of the Lawfare Project, told the Journal in a phone interview, “You can no longer say, ‘I’m not anti-Semitic, I’m just anti-Zionist’ and for that to be OK and for that to be an excuse to then target and harass and violate the civil rights of Jewish students. That will no longer be tolerated.”

“The school [SFSU] should have come to the table a long time ago,” Goldstein said. “But now, obviously after everything and all the efforts that were made, because they saw that they were going to lose and the discrimination was blatant and they did the right thing by settling with us and coming to terms with the issue.”

Goldstein added that it would be “bizarre” if other CSU schools didn’t follow suit and protect Zionist students on campus.

“They [the CSU system] would be opening themselves up for further litigation and they would lose because it’s on record — public record — that they’ve admitted that this is wrong,” Goldstein said.

SFSU spokeswoman Mary Kenny said in a statement to the Journal, “Today’s settlement in the Volk v CSU case brings an end to what has been a very emotional and challenging issue for all parties involved. We are pleased that we reached common ground on steps for moving forward.

“The settlement emphasizes the importance of improving student experiences and student lives,” Kenny added. “It allows S.F. State to reiterate its commitment to equity and inclusion for all — including those who are Jewish — and reaffirms the values of free expression and diversity of viewpoints that are so critical on a university campus.”

The CSU Board of Trustees did not respond to the Journal’s request for comment.

The full settlement can be read below: