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California Parents File Lawsuit Accusing Berkeley Schools of Tolerating Rampant Antisemitism

— March 5, 2024

Attorneys for a group of Berkeley parents say that, since the Hamas attack on Israel in October, students and teachers have begun expressing overtly antisemitic sentiments–sentiments that have led some children to “hide their Jewish identity for fear of reprisal.”

A recently-filed federal lawsuit claims that California teachers and education officials tolerated the “severe and persistent” harassment of Jewish students at Berkeley Unified School District in the San Francisco Bay Area.

According to NBC-Bay Area, attorneys from the Anti-Defamation League and the Louis Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law say that antisemitic bullying in Berkeley schools escalated in the aftermath of Hamas’s October 7th attack against Israeli civilians.

“The Israel-Gaza conflict has spiked a huge antisemitism crisis in schools,” said Rachel Lerman, general counsel and vice chairperson of the Brandeis Center. “We can see from the Berkeley schools that what’s going on is clearly antisemitic.”

“When you have rallies for Gaza, with students yelling, ‘F— the Jews,’ or ‘Gas the Jews,’ then you have an antisemitism problem,” Lerman said. “It’s [as] plain as day.”

In the complaint, Berkeley families recalled how, after the October 7th attacks, teachers and students alike began expressing support for Palestinian resistance—support that that was, at times, underlain by overtly antisemitic messaging.

Ilana Pearlman, the mother of a 14-year-old Berkeley High School student named Ezra, said that she “wanted to cry” after learning that her son—who is both Black and Jewish—had begun concealing his faith out of fear for his own safety.

Although Pearlman had expected that Berkeley would be a safe and welcoming space for students of all backgrounds, she told The Los Angeles Times that she was forced to watch “Ezra erase his Jewish identity.”

Nevertheless, Ezra started to talk about problematic messaging apparent in Berkeley classrooms. In one incident, an art teacher allegedly projected “resistance art” in class—including an image of a fist punching through a Star of David, which was superimposed over a map of Israel.

Scales of Justice. Image via Flickr/user:mikecogh. (CCA-BY-2.0).

Ezra’s art classroom, among other spaces, was soon filled by signs detailing the daily death toll of Palestinians and promoting “walkout[s] against genocide.”

“He never tells me anything,” Pearlman said of her son. “The fact that he shared this was unusual.”

On October 18th, less than two weeks after Hamas’s incursion left more than 1,000 Israeli civilians dead, Ezra’s classmates joined a walkout in which several students allegedly shouted, “Kill the Jews!”

“The eruption of antisemitism in Berkeley’s elementary and high schools is like nothing I’ve ever seen before,” said Brandeis Center chairman Kenneth L. Marcus, a former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education under the George W. Bush and Donald Trump administrations.

Brandeis Center and A.D.L. attorneys recalled other incidents indicative of antisemitic sentiment—including that of a student who presented a project detailing his Jewish ancestry for an ethnic studies course, after which a classmate crossed out the word “Jewish” on the presentation handout and wrote “free free Palestine.”

In another, a parent of a second-grade student reported a teacher for antisemitic conduct, prompting the teacher to approach the parent, saying, “I know who you are, I know who your f— wife is, and I know where you live.”

“[That] children feel forced to hide their Jewish identity for fear of reprisal is downright shocking,” said Anti-Defamation League C.E.O. Jonathan Greenblatt. “We must demand more from our educational leaders.”


Berkeley public schools hit with complaint alleging ‘severe and persistent’ antisemitic bullying

Berkeley school district received federal complaint for ‘severe and persistent antisemitic bullying’

Berkeley Unified facing lawsuit over alleged harassment of Jewish students

Brandeis Center/ADL File Federal Complaint Against Berkeley K-12 Schools For “Severe and Persistent” Antisemitic Bullying

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