Amended complaint filed in lawsuit alleging anti-Semitism

Jamie Applegate, The Daily Californian
February 5, 2012

A second amended complaint has been filed in a lawsuit alleging that the University of California has failed to provide a safe environment for Jewish students.

Filed Jan. 6 by UC Berkeley alumna Jessica Felber and current student Brian Maissy, the complaint will be heard in court March 15. It alleges that the UC violated Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution in 2011 by authorizing the construction of a mock “checkpoint” at UC Berkeley during an annual demonstration called Apartheid Week.

Title VI prohibits discrimination based on race, color or national origin in programs that receive federal financial assistance.

The checkpoint, sponsored by Students for Justice in Palestine and the Muslim Student Association, included mock barbed wire and fake AK-47 firearms and took place as a protest to “educate people about the nature of Israel as an apartheid system,” according to the event’s website.

The second complaint condemns the demonstrations as hate speech, “equal in legal odiousness to use of the ‘N’ word, or similar racist and sexist expressions” and comes after the court dismissed the original claims in December.

The original complaint drew upon instances across the UC system over the past decade that allegedly contributed to a dangerous climate for Jewish students.

The suit followed an incident in March 2010 in which Husam Zakharia, a UC Berkeley alumnus and former member of Students for Justice in Palestine, allegedly rammed Felber with a shopping cart, according to the document dismissing the original complaint.

Joel Siegal, the attorney representing Felber in the case, said in an email that the second complaint differs because it limits the claims to the specific alleged violations of the act and the Constitution.

That complaint, filed in March of last year, was dismissed by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California Dec. 22 based on what the dismissal document calls a failure “to allege a tenable federal constitutional claim.”

Campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof said UC Berkeley has filed a motion to dismiss the new complaint. He added that he feels the amended complaint does not correct deficiencies the court found in the original allegations.

“This same court has already found that the majority of activities the plaintiffs complain about are constitutionally protected speech,” Mogulof said.

Muslim Student Association President Zienab Abdelgany said she feels the lawsuit does not accurately reflect interactions between her organization and Jewish students on campus and that the lawsuit is not motivated by a basis in fact.

“To misconstrue criticism of Israel as anti-Semetic is an old trick and one that does not do good because there is really anti-Semitism in the world and this isn’t it,” Abdelgany said.