In settling lawsuit over anti-Zionist disruption and discrimination, universities acknowledge “that, for many Jews, Zionism is an important part of their identity” and agree to take steps to prevent further discrimination.
After years of hostility to Jews and their pro-Israel views at California State University and San Francisco State University, a lawsuit was brought against the board of trustees, faculty, and even the President of the University.
SFSU had been a particular thorn in the side of their Jewish students, more so than other universities around the country. They are rated within the Algemeiner’s list of campuses that are the “worst” for Jewish students.
The hostilities on campus escalated to instances of actual discrimination against Jewish student groups from campus-wide affairs.
In 2017, for example, the Hillel was disinvited from a campus-wide fair on the basis of their Zionist viewpoint. The purpose of the fair was to inform the students of their rights in light of the 2016 presidential elections.
On more than 12 occasions President Leslie Wong was made aware of the “fear and intimidation faced by Jewish students” and those students had claimed she did not do anything concrete to address the problem.
The hostile environment was accelerated after the the mayor of Jerusalem was invited to campus in 2016. As Mayor Nir Barkat attempted to speak he was interrupted by protesters who were purposefully chanting so he could not continue the talk.
An internal investigation showed that students yelled “Get the fuck off our campus” and chanted “Long live the intifada! Intifada, intifada!”
The anti-Israel disrupters were not kicked out by security despite the fact that the attendees felt unsafe by their demonstration. The students set up a small enclave at the far end of the room with the Mayor to continue the talk.
The anti-Israel students continued their hostilities by “staring down” the Jewish students who attended the Barakat event when they encountered them on campus. These stare downs made these students apprehensive and uncomfortable.
Afterwards Jews expressed their fears to the President about wearing stars of David “or otherwise outwardly identifying as Jews on campus.”
They raised these concerns to the University over a dozen times in 2 years with no demonstrable results.
College of Ethnic Studies (COES), a school at SFSU, was one of the driving forces of anti-Zionism on campus. Their stated goal is to educate students on intersectionality and social justice issues.
When a Jewish student, Michaela Gershon, took a class from the COES she was harassed by her professor for the entire semester for her pro-Israel views. At one point she was told by the Professor to join anti-Zionist groups.
The student felt uncomfortable but had to continue attending classes in order to maintain her good grades. She became increasingly “uncomfortable, nervous, and upset because of her treatment by her professor.” That would be the last class she would take in the COES department.
Over the course of two years dealt with the pervasively hostile environment with nothing concrete being done on their behalf, a lawsuit was brought by the Lawfare Project, a global network of legal professionals who defend the civil and human rights of the Jewish people and pro-Israel community, and Winston & Strawn LLP.
Overall the plaintiffs, who consisted of Jewish students on the campus, had argued that administrators failed to take effective action to combat the “pervasively hostile environment” against Jewish students.
The case was originally dismissed. Judge William H. Orrick ruled that the “allegations were insufficient to support their claims” and he dismissed the case.
The order dismissing the case describe in detail the complaints of the Jewish students (the plaintiffs) against CSU and SFSU faculty and administrators (the defendants). The Judge concluded that despite the seriousness of the allegations, “the acts described…. do not adequately allege a violation of federal anti-discrimination laws (Title VI) so that liability may be imposed.”
The plaintiffs had originally asked for the following solutions: enforcement of free speech, training on anti-Semitism, official apologies for the exclusion of Hillel from the fair, support from the president that Zionists are welcome on campus, continuing meetings with members of the Jewish community on campus.
The plaintiffs appealed Judge Orrick’s decision to dismiss the suit. However, before the was heard, it was settled. The Lawfare Project, which represented the plaintiffs along with a private law firm, issued a press release regarding the settlement.
The Lawfare Project and Winston & Strawn LLP today reached a landmark settlement in their lawsuits against the California State University (CSU) public university system.
The settlement in Volk v. Board of Trustees comes ahead of this month’s scheduled trial for a lawsuit brought by two Jewish students who allege that San Francisco State University (SFSU) and the Board of Trustees of CSU discriminated against them.
As part of the settlement, SFSU agreed to:
- Public statement: Issue a statement affirming that
“it understands that, for many Jews, Zionism is an important part of their identity”;
- Coordinator of Jewish Student Life: “Hire a Coordinator of Jewish Student Life within the Division of Equity & Community Inclusion” and dedicate suitable office space for this position;
- External review of policies: “Retain an independent, external consultant to assess SFSU’s procedures for enforcement of applicable CSU system-wide anti-discrimination policies and student code of conduct”;
- Independent investigation of additional complaints: “SFSU will, for a period of 24 months, assign all complaints of religious discrimination under either E.O. 1096 or E.O. 1097 to an independent, outside investigator for investigation”;
- Funding viewpoint diversity: “SFSU will allocate an additional $200,000 to support educational outreach efforts to promote viewpoint diversity (including but not limited to pro-Israel or Zionist viewpoints) and inclusion and equity on the basis of religious identity (including but not limited to Jewish religious identity)”; and
- Campus mural: Engage in the SFSU process to allocate “space on the SFSU campus for a mural to be installed under the oversight of the Division of Equity & Community Inclusion, paid for by the University, that will be designed by student groups of differing viewpoints on the issues that are the subject of this litigation to be agreed by the parties (including but not limited to Jewish, pro-Israel, and/or Zionist student groups, should such student groups elect to participate in the process).”
The settlement is significant because as part of the settlement SFSU said publically “it understands that, for many Jews, Zionism is an important part of their identity.” Other parts of the settlement included a new policy that outside investigations, not internal ones, will be responsible for reviewing the compliance of the University to its student code of conduct and to their anti-discrimination policy.
“We have ensured that SFSU will put in place important protections for Jewish and Zionist students to prevent continued discrimination. We are confident that this will change the campus climate for the better,” said Brooke Goldstein, Executive Director of The Lawfare Project.
Goldstein also said that the settlement marked a huge win for Jewish students on SFSU and those across the country.
She added, “We have ensured that SFSU will put in place important protections for Jewish and Zionist students to prevent continued discrimination. We are confident that this will change the campus climate for the better.”
Hannah Grossman is a Senior at Brooklyn College. Her writing has appeared in The Daily Caller, The Algemeiner, The Brooklyn Eagle, and elsewhere. This is her first post for Legal Insurrection.