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Two more UC campuses exonerated of fostering anti-Semitic climates

U.S. clears UC Irvine and UC Santa Cruz. Both had been accused of allowing protests against Israel's treatment of Palestinians that made Jewish students fearful.

August 28, 2013|By Larry Gordon

The U.S. Department of Education has exonerated two more UC campuses — Irvine and Santa Cruz — of allegations that they fostered anti-Semitic climates by allowing protests against Israeli policies and other incidents that Jewish students contended amounted to illegal harassment.

UC Berkeley announced Tuesday similar findings that ended an investigation by the department's Office for Civil Rights into complaints by Jewish students. Related probes at UC Irvine and UC Santa Cruz also finished with findings that the schools were not at fault, officials said Wednesday.

The investigations, while looking at incidents between 2007 and 2012, generally dealt with the contentions that campus protests against Israel's treatment of Palestinians stepped over the line into such strong anti-Semitism that some Jewish students felt fearful. The federal reports found that the protests and other confrontations may have been offensive but were permissible as free speech or were not harsh enough to threaten Jewish students' educations and safety.

For example, at an anti-Israel protest at UC Irvine in 2007, Jewish students said they heard a demonstrator curse a rabbi and make an anti-Semitic remark to him. "Although offensive, this statement is not sufficiently serious as to deny or limit students' ability to participate in or benefit from the University's program," investigators wrote in a letter to the university.

UC Santa Cruz lecturer Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, among those whose complaints triggered the investigations, said that the three rulings did not take the issues seriously enough and that she planned to appeal the Santa Cruz one.

The three decisions, she said, are "extraordinarily disturbing news that sends a horrible message to Jewish students that their concerns and fears are not going to be addressed."

However, UC Santa Cruz Chancellor George Blumenthal, in a statement, said: "This campus values the free and open expression of ideas, and we diligently safeguard our students' civil rights. We are, therefore, pleased that these allegations have been thoroughly investigated and dismissed."

A previous federal probe of alleged anti-Semitism at UC Irvine led to a similar exoneration in 2007. Three years later, Muslim students interrupted a campus speech by Israel's ambassador to the U.S., triggering a controversy that led to 10 of them being convicted of misdemeanor criminal charges; they are appealing.

UC Irvine Chancellor Michael Drake said in a statement that "UC Irvine's Jewish student community is vibrant, growing, and actively engaged in a wide variety of activities on our diverse campus. We are pleased that these allegations have been dismissed and believe very strongly in our carefully and actively nurtured culture of inclusion."

Supporters of the pro-Palestinian demonstrators were pleased by the decisions, saying they were an affirmation of free speech rights. But they also said the investigations created a chilling effect, discouraging students from joining political activities.

larry.gordon@latimes.com

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