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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Jewish Students Sue UC Berkeley for Allowing "Violent Anti-Semitic Attacks"

Posted By on Thu, Aug 11, 2011 at 7:45 AM

click to enlarge Apartheid Week on the UC Berkeley Campus, 2009
  • Apartheid Week on the UC Berkeley Campus, 2009
Two Jewish UC Berkeley students are suing the school, claiming that the UC Berkeley administration failed to halt "violent anti-Semitic attacks and a hostile environment" created by two pro-Palestinian groups on campus.

Plaintiff Jessica Felber, who graduated in 2010, claims that she was attacked and injured during "Apartheid Week" in 2010, an annual school-sanctioned event held by student groups Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and the Muslim Student Organization.

During Apartheid Week, students dress up as soldiers and carry fake assault weapons. They use barbed wire to simulate a checkpoint and interrogate students walking by. In Felber's declaration she writes, "The 'soldiers' ... shout and yell at passing students: 'prepare to be stopped', 'what is your religion', and 'are you Jewish?' "

Felber was holding a sign stating "Israel wants Peace" when she was allegedly assaulted by Hasam Zakharia, leader of SJP. She says he intentionally rammed a shopping cart into her, wounding her enough that she needed medical attention. Afterward, Felber obtained a restraining order against Zakharia.

click to enlarge Apartheid Week 2010
  • Apartheid Week 2010
On a prior date, Felber says Zakharia spat at her. When Felber approached Dean of Students Jonathan Poullard, he interrupted her midstory and said, "Wait wait wait, he spat at you or on you?" claiming that there was a difference. Felber writes, "Dean Poullard's comments to me cheapened and humiliated me. He made me feel that simply because Zakharia had not hit me directly in my face with his spit, that my personal space and dignity were not violated on campus."

With coplaintiff Brian Maissy, a third-year undergraduate, Felber argues that Apartheid Week is "a disturbing echo of the incitement, intimidation, harassment and violence carried out under the Nazi regime." They claim that the university has done nothing to protect Jewish students from being harassed during these events.

In addition, Felber and Maissy assert that the fake assault weapons violate the California Penal Code 12556, which states that "no person may openly display or expose any imitation firearm ... in a public place."

Berkeley argues that the plaintiffs are attempting to "compel UC to restrict the freedom of speech and assembly of its other students, in violation of their First Amendment rights."

The case is under review by the U.S. District Court in San Francisco, with a hearing scheduled for September 22.

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