Berkeley Public Schools Hit With Federal Complaint Over ‘Severe and Persistent’ Anti-Semitic Bullying

Complaint alleges hallway chants of ‘kill the Jews’ and anti-Semitic teacher rants in support of Hamas

(Scott Olson/Getty Images)
February 28, 2024

A public school district in Berkeley, California, was hit with a federal complaint on Wednesday alleging it has failed to stem an escalating series of anti-Semitic incidents that include hallway chants of "kill the Jews" and anti-Semitic teacher rants in support of the Hamas terror group.

The Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) "knowingly allowed its K-12 campuses to become viciously hostile environments for Jewish and Israeli students," according to a copy of the complaint, filed with the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights and obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

Parents who have signed onto the complaint say anti-Semitic incidents in the schools have "positively surged" since Hamas conducted its unprecedented Oct. 7 terror attack on Israel.

"At BUSD, a virulent wave of anti-Semitism swept through its schools immediately following the massacre," the complaint alleges. "Jewish and Israeli students have since been subjected to nonstop anti-Semitic bullying and harassment by their teachers and peers, in hallways, in classrooms, and in school yards."

The complaint, filed by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, follows a flurry of similar federal filings against many of America’s top universities, including Harvard, MIT, and University of Pennsylvania, among others. Like its college counterparts, the Berkeley school district stands accused of becoming a dangerous place for Jews and Israelis.

"Reported incidents of anti-Semitism include school ‘walkouts’ praising Hamas with students shouting 'f— the Jews' and ‘KKK,’" according to the complaint. "Teachers use class time to propagandize that the Hamas massacre was admirable ‘resistance.’ Following their teachers’ lead, students bully their Jewish peers and deride their physical appearance."

Berkeley Unified did not respond to a request for comment.

Parents have reported this behavior to school administrators, the complaint says, but the district "has done nothing to address, much less curtail, the hostile environment that has plagued BUSD for over four months."

The ADL and Brandeis Center are asking the federal government to open a formal probe into the school district to determine if the Jewish population’s civil rights are being violated.

Anti-Semitism is allegedly "normalized throughout BUSD. And teachers have responded with threats."

In one case, a teacher approached a parent who had complained and said, "I know who you are, I know who your f—ing wife is and I know where you live," according to testimony included in the federal filing.

Perhaps taking a cue from their instructors, students have harassed their Jewish classmates, telling them, "it is excellent what Hamas did to Israel" and "you have a big nose because you are a stupid Jew," according to incidents relayed in the complaint.

"While Berkeley Unified School District plasters its buildings with 'United Against Hate' posters, Jewish hate is ignored," said Berkeley Unified parent Ilana Pearlman.

In the wake of Hamas’s attack on Israel, Berkeley Unified teachers and administrators have allegedly staged walkouts "denigrating Israelis and calling for the elimination of Jews."

"Teachers, staff, and administrators," the complaint states, "have participated in and encouraged students to join walkouts, depriving Jewish and Israeli students of a safe place to learn and all students of instruction." In some cases, these events have taken place during school hours.

In another case cited in the complaint, an unnamed art teacher "spent significant class time imposing his anti-Semitic views on students by showing them violent pro-Hamas videos, projecting anti-Israel and anti-Semitic images during class." This includes an image of a fist holding a Palestinian flag punching through a Star of David.

The complaint outlines other similar incidents, including anti-Semitic harassment, that has left Jewish students shaken and scared about going to school each day.

"The Berkeley public school district is just one of many districts in California and other states that are experiencing an extreme wave of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic language and incidents in the classroom and the schoolyard," said Rachel Lerman, vice chair and general counsel for the Brandeis Center. "Since October 7, there have been continual anti-Israel rallies, taking kids off campus without parent permission, where students are provided with signs and permitted to call for the extermination of Zionists and Jews. Students feel free to engage in anti-Semitic speech and bully their Jewish classmates because a number of their teachers tolerate and even encourage it. Meanwhile the administration does nothing in the face of widespread parent complaints."