The U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights has launched investigations into two complaints of alleged discrimination against Jewish students at the University of California, Los Angeles, a month after President Trump signed an executive order on combating anti-Semitism.
In the first complaint, UCLA student Shayna Lavi said she was harassed after challenging a guest speaker, San Francisco State professor Rabab Abdulhadi, who described Israel “as a racist endeavor, denied its right to exist, and characterized Zionists as white supremacists,” according to the StandWithUs Center for Combating Antisemitism.
The second complaint, filed by the Zachor Legal Institute, accused the university of creating a hostile environment for Jewish students by allowing a 2018 Students for Justice in Palestine national conference to be held on campus.
In a letter last week to StandWithUs, the OCR said the complaint was “appropriate for investigation under the laws enforced by OCR and OCR is now opening your complaint for investigation.”
Zachor received a similar letter.
Zachor co-founder and president Marc Greendorfer credited the president’s executive order signed Dec. 11 with providing the department with “clear guidance on how to deal with the toxic effects of all types of campus antisemitism.”
“For too long, antisemitic hate groups have been given free rein to create hostile environments on college campuses, often in programs that are federally funded,” said Mr. Greendorfer in a statement, adding, We are not asking for special treatment; rather, we are simply seeking an equal and consistent application of anti-discrimination provisions of federal law.”
In a statement, UCLA said it would “fully cooperate with the investigation,” but that its Discrimination Prevention Office had looked into Ms. Lavi’s complaint and found “the comments made during the lecture were not the type of severe, pervasive and persistent unwelcome conduct that constitutes harassment or discrimination.”
As for the SJP conference, “the event was exclusively sponsored by Students for Justice in Palestine, one of our 1,200 registered student groups — not the university. No public funds or student fees were used,” said the UCLA statement.
“UCLA is bound by and believes deeply in the First Amendment, which protects every student’s right to express his or her viewpoints, even ideas that are controversial or that the university does not support,” said the UCLA statement.
The university also noted that Forward magazine named UCLA “the #1 campus for Jewish life on the West Coast and #3 in the nation.”
StandWithUs argued that UCLA “failed to respond adequately or effectively” after Ms. Lavi was “verbally harassed” by the guest speaker and her professor.
“Students should never be subjected to discrimination, harassment or retaliation by their professors after standing up for themselves, their identity, and their community,” said StandWithUs co-founder and CEO Roz Rothstein. “For Shayna, as for many Jews, Zionism is an integral part of her Jewish identity, and university administrators should be in the business of protecting students against conduct that marginalizes and demonizes them, not giving such hate a free pass.”
The executive order applied Title VI protection under the 1964 Civil Rights Act to cases of anti-Semitism “when the discrimination is based on an individual’s race, color, or national origin.”