When the news spread in the fall that nine student groups at the University of California’s Berkeley School of Law amended their bylaws to ensure that no Zionist or pro-Israel speakers would ever speak to them, it sparked outrage throughout the Jewish world. The groups had, as Kenneth Marcus, chairman of the Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law termed it, created “Jew-free zones” on the campus of one of the country’s most prestigious public universities.
Yet the curious thing about the controversy was how quickly it was downplayed. The list of those minimizing it included, of course, the leadership of the law school and university, whose jobs as officials at a state institution require them not to be associated, even tangentially, with overt antisemitism. But it also included two Jewish professors at Berkeley and left-wing Jewish journalists, who claimed that it was a lie that Berkeley had “Jew-free” zones.
“I will bless those who bless you,
And I will curse him who curses you;
And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Genesis 12:3
According to The Forward’s Rob Eshman, the story was nothing more than a case of the Jewish Journal, which first published Marcus’s article, engaging in click-bait journalism. He said that even a cursory investigation of the allegation made it clear that it was “misinformation,” a standard smear of any revelations inconvenient for liberals, such as that about Hunter Biden’s laptop. And The Forward is so proud of Eshman’s specious defense of Berkeley’s tolerance for antisemites that it re-circulated the piece as part of its end-of-year fundraising campaign.
Nevertheless, and to the surprise of many, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has launched a formal investigation into the incident. Its decision to do so, though by no means a guarantee of a ruling against the antisemites, is something of a milestone. That’s because it’s the first time that the OCR, which is responsible for monitoring discrimination on the basis of race, religion or sex has taken up a case of left-wing campus antisemitism under a Democratic administration.
Though, under the administration of George W. Bush, it took the first steps toward the government’s treating of anti-Zionism as a form of antisemitism, it went much further when Donald Trump was president and Marcus served as Under Secretary of Education for Civil Rights from 2018 to 2020. During this period, Trump issued an executive order declaring that acts of discrimination against Jews would be “vigorously enforced” in accordance with the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism, which includes anti-Zionism and Israel-Nazi comparisons among its terms.
In other words, targeting Jews and Israel-supporters—in the very manner that the groups at Berkeley Law have now done—would be considered violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and place the school in jeopardy of losing federal funding. This would be tantamount to a fatal blow, in an era in which nearly all institutions rely heavily on grants and allocations from Washington.
This was a move that the Obama administration, eager to distinguish hatred against Israel and pro-Israel Jews from that of traditional antisemitism, had refused to make.
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