Jewish Journal Article- Complaint: UC Davis Failed to Take Action Against Antisemitism on Campus

Jewish students have been verbally and physically attacked.

Jewish Journal/Aaron Bandler/April 4, 2024 

The StandWithUs Center for Legal Justice (SCLJ) filed a complaint to the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) against UC Davis on Monday, alleging that the university has failed to take action against multiple instances of antisemitism on campus following the Oct. 7 massacre and is in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.

The complaint centers on social media posts from UC Davis students and faculty members “advocating for, justifying, or celebrating killing Jews,” including a purported post from Assistant Professor of American Studies Jemma Decristo about how “we have easy access to … all these Zionist journalists who spread propaganda and misinformation … They have houses [with] addresses, kids in school,” Decristo wrote on X. “[T]hey can fear their bosses, but they should fear us more.” She ended the post with a knife and axe emoji followed by three blood drop emojis. And yet, the university has not “made public the final determination regarding Decristo’s status at the University,” the complaint contends.

The complaint also focuses on social media posts from UC Davis chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), alleging that the it referred to the Oct. 7 massacre as “Palestinian resistance” and that “we indisputably support the Uprising”; further, the SJP chapter blamed “the Israeli occupation” for the “escalation in violence.” The vice president of the SJP  also referred to the UC system as “a bunch of zio losers”; “Zio,” the complaint explains, “is a slur against Jews and Israelis popularized by David Duke.” In November, the SJP chapter posted that Israel has no right to self-defense “due to its status as an occupier.” And in January, the SJP said at the end of a lengthy post that “Palestinians on the ground lead the movement, we do what they say,” which the complaint interprets as “confirming allegiance to Hamas.”

But the SJP chapter’s alleged behavior goes beyond social media posts; according to a witness quoted in the complaint during a student government meeting shortly after the Oct. 7 massacre, “SJP affiliates mocked Israeli students who recounted the loss of friends and family, interrupted speeches with profanities, and reportedly threw objects at Jewish students who were present.” The complaint further claims that the SJP chapter held multiple demonstrations that violated university policy, including two demonstrations where hundreds of people attended; these would qualify as a “major event” where the organizer is required to request approval a few weeks in advance, provide proof of insurance and cover the costs associated with the event, including any damage caused by the event. They also held a walkout in October with their stated purpose to disrupt classes; during the walkout, the university “egg head” statutes were vandalized and “Nothing but hate for Israel and Zionism” signs were left at the base of the statues, per the complaint.

“UC Davis free speech policies explicitly commit to balancing the free speech rights of students against the rights of all other students to enjoy University functions — such as class — without disruption,” the complaint states. This, in addition to the “major” events held by SJP, has caused the SCLJ to question if “UC Davis has granted SJP privileged exceptions from its free speech policies.”

During an SJP rally in November in which an estimated 300-500 people showed up, the organizers led the crowd to Mrak Hall — where Chancellor Gary May’s office is located––where they issued a series of demands. Five minutes later, the protesters “began violently banging on the doors,” forcing the building to go into lockdown. One masked protester spray-painted ‘F— ADMIN” and “BLOOD ON YOUR HANDS” on the building.

The complaint also alleges that several faculty members have not properly distinguished between “speaking as a private citizen and speaking as an agent of the University.” As an example, the complaint points to the fact that several faculty members participated in an “emergency teach-in” event that was advertised on department websites without any disclaimers; one of the faculty members, English Professor Joshua Clover, allegedly said during the event that “all Israeli residents are legitimate targets” and that “people under occupation have the legitimate right to resist by all means necessary.” “This is a statement outside of personal opinion, utterly unfounded in international law and well outside the expertise of Professor Clover, a poet and professor of English,” the complaint states. “By publishing his personal opinion from the pulpit of a UC Davis event, from UC Davis facilities, as a UC Davis professor without any disclaimer at all, Professor Clover not only acted in violation of applicable policies concerning faculty speech but also directly contributed to the creation of a hostile environment.”

Asked by the Journal to comment on the allegation, Clover replied that he would provide comment “once you assure me that, as a principled supporter of liberation, you believe that Palestine should be free and that Israel must commence an immediate ceasefire as a first step toward withdrawing from all territory it has occupied since the beginning of the Nakba.”

Further, the complaint accuses Hans Wagner, a writing instructor at the university, of pausing class while a Jewish Israeli student was in the process of reading her poem out loud so he could hear pro-Palestinian protesters chanting outside; Wagner then ended the class early so he could attend the rally, which the SCLJ argues is in violation of UC policy. However, Wagner told the Journal in an email that this is “a false allegation.” “I took this up with Academic Affairs when said allegation emerged,” he said. “I take my position as a professor in the English department at UCD seriously. Furthermore, I take classroom equity, diversity, and inclusion to be principal foundations on which I teach. I do not discriminate on any basis regarding race, color, or national origin. I am happy to seek legal assistance, if need be.”

The complaint contends that university affiliated organizations are excluding Zionist students, including a student co-op housing contract agreement stipulating that “any actions of racism… [Z]ionism… will result in removal from the house” and the UC Davis rugby team revoking their invitation to a Jewish student to DJ their event after the student voiced support for Israel on social media following the Oct. 7 massacre.

The complaint also documents an instance in which a student was punched in the face after confronting an individual who was tearing down hostage posters; the complaint claims to be not aware of any response or investigation by the university into the matter.

The complaint concludes by calling for the university to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism, provide required training on antisemitism and the Jewish identity, and investigate all antisemitic incidents that have been reported on campus. “After such investigation, to the extent warranted under campus policies, revoke SJP’s registration as a student organization, defund it and ban it from campus,” the complaint states.

“UC Davis has neglected and ignored its Jewish and Israeli students’ complaints of rising campus antisemitism,” SCLJ Director Yael Lerman said in a statement. “In doing so, the school has allowed UC Davis to become a hotbed for anti-Jewish bigotry, failing their obligation under Title VI. This complaint details the administration’s indifference to antisemitism and calls on them to remedy the situation by committing to enforce their own policies and disciplining perpetrators of antisemitic conduct. UC Davis must be held accountable and Jewish, Israeli and Zionist students must be protected.”

“UC Davis has neglected and ignored its Jewish and Israeli students’ complaints of rising campus antisemitism … In doing so, the school has allowed UC Davis to become a hotbed for anti-Jewish bigotry, failing their obligation under Title VI.” – SCLJ Director Yael Lerman

Hillel at Davis and Sacramento Board President Barry Klein also said in a statement, “Hillel at Davis and Sacramento has tried to work with the administration to protect Jewish and Israeli students on campus, but harassment and discrimination still run rampant at UC Davis. We hope that this complaint will lead to the administration taking more effective actions to address these issues.”

In a statement to the Journal, the university said, “UC Davis is committed to fostering a climate of equity and justice where all can feel welcome and thrive, free of harassment or discrimination. UC Davis has a comprehensive harassment and discrimination prevention program. When the university receives a complaint of antisemitism or other offensive behavior, it immediately reaches out the affected parties to provide support and resources, and reviews the allegations under the university’s anti-discrimination policy. Chancellor Gary S. May has spoken out forcefully against antisemitism, and has joined with UC President Michael V. Drake and chancellors across the University of California in condemning bigotry and intolerance.” The university added that they are a participant in the Hillel Campus Climate Initiative.

“We take student safety very seriously, and follow up on all reports of students not having an equal opportunity to pursue their education or that may need protection due to lack of safety,” the university’s statement continued. “Students or their supporters can directly report concerns to our Office of Student Support via this webform, and a case manager will review and follow up directly with the impacted student(s). Free speech is strongly protected by university policy and the First Amendment. As a public university, UC Davis cannot discipline individuals for speech protected by the First Amendment. Even when allegations center on protected speech, the university provides resources and explores supportive measures for the affected parties.”

Read the article HERE.

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