By Jordan Bach-Lombardo
Daily Cal Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
A former UC Berkeley student has filed a lawsuit against the campus and UC as a whole, alleging that campus and university policies and actions have allowed a “dangerous environment” to develop, an allegation the campus has vehemently denied.
In the suit – filed on March 4 in the Northern District of the United States District Court – Jessica Felber, who was co-president of the campus Zionist student group Tikvah while a student on campus, alleges that the campus and university tolerated “the development of a dangerous anti-Semitic climate on its campuses” and failed to adopt policies that addressed the alleged dangerous climate, according to the filing.
The filing followed a March 5, 2010 incident, when Felber was allegedly assaulted by Husam Zakharia, a UC Berkeley alumnus and former member of Students for Justice in Palestine, and required medical attention.
Zakharia was arrested after the incident, but charges were not filed by the Alameda County District Attorney’s office.
Campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof said that the suit’s claim is baseless.
“UC Berkeley is committed to maintaining an inclusive and respectful campus environment that is safe and welcoming for everyone, without regard to religion, race, ethnicity or ideology,” he said. “On legal and factual grounds, we completely reject the complaint’s unfounded claims and allegations, and we intend to very vigorously contest this lawsuit.”
The suit names UC President Mark Yudof, the UC Board of Regents, the University of California, UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, the ASUC and the ASUC Auxiliary as defendants.
The Students for Justice in Palestine – a coalition of UC Berkeley students, faculty, staff and community members of diverse backgrounds that works “in solidarity with … Palestinians and Israelis who together continue to struggle against the apartheid regime that has consolidated itself in the West Bank, Gaza, Jerusalem and 1967 Israel,” according to the group’s website – is alleged in the suit to be one of the registered campus groups that contributes to the campus’s alleged dangerous climate. The group also denied the legitimacy of the Felber’s claims.
“This is an abuse of the judicial process and an assault on free speech. The lawsuit is an attempt to try and intimidate the university into silencing a campus group with whom some may disagree politically,” the group said in a statement. “We … look forward to a discussion about the case once we have reviewed it in more detail.”
In the filing, Felber requests an award for damages to compensate for the injuries suffered as a result of the alleged campus climate – including personal and emotional injury and the expenses incurred from treatment.
The suit cites a number of incidents across the UC system over the last decade that allegedly contribute to the “dangerous” climate, ranging from physical altercations between Students for Justice in Palestine members and campus Jewish community members to hate crimes perpetrated against Jewish houses on several UC campuses to a UC Berkeley R1A course description.
The suit’s filing comes at the start of the Students for Justice in Palestine’s Israeli Apartheid Week on campus, which began March 1 and aims “to educate people about the nature of Israel as an apartheid system” and to advocate for boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns against the government, according to the group’s website.
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