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Jewish Students File Suit Against UCLA Over Pro-Palestinian Encampment

Jewish Students File Suit Against UCLA Over Pro-Palestinian Encampment

Pro-Palestinian protesters rebuild the barricade surrounding their encampment after clashes erupted overnight on the campus of the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) on May 1, 2024. (Etienne Laurent/AFP via Getty Images)

City News Service

City News Service

6/5/2024

Updated: 6/5/2024

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LOS ANGELES—Three Jewish students filed a civil rights lawsuit June 5 against the University of California Board of Regents and other university officials, alleging UCLA allowed “antisemitic activists” to bar them and other students from going to their classes, offices and the library during pro-Palestinian demonstrations in April and May.
In the Los Angeles federal court complaint, two law students and an undergraduate student contend that UCLA allowed a group of students and outsiders to set up an encampment, the participants of which stopped Jewish students and faculty from accessing the heart of campus.
In the wake of the Hamas attacks on Israel on Oct. 7, pro-Palestinian demonstrations emerged on college campuses nationwide. By allowing the encampment on the Westwood campus, UCLA allegedly caused Jewish students and faculty to be barred from accessing parts of the campus “unless they agreed to disavow Israel’s right to exist,” according to the plaintiffs’ lawyers.
“We are aware of the lawsuit that was filed today, which to our knowledge, has not yet been served,” according to a statement from UCLA. “We will review and respond in due course. UCLA remains committed to supporting the safety and well-being of the entire Bruin community.”
According to the plaintiffs, the activists used checkpoints, issued wrist bands, built barriers, and often locked arms to prevent Jewish students from passing through.
For a week, the lawsuit contends, UCLA’s administration was aware of these practices and chose to let them persist. The suit alleges that rather than clearing the encampment, UCLA instructed security staff to discourage unapproved students from attempting to cross through the areas blocked by the activists.
“If masked agitators had excluded any other marginalized group at UCLA, Gov. Gavin Newsom rightly would have sent in the National Guard immediately,” said Mark Rienzi, president and CEO of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a nonprofit public interest law firm.
“But UCLA instead caved to the antisemitic activists and allowed its Jewish students to be segregated from the heart of their own campus. That is a profound and illegal failure of leadership.”
Mr. Rienzi, whose firm filed the 74-page suit on behalf of the student plaintiffs, alleges that activists within the pro-Palestinian encampment targeted Jewish students.
Plaintiff Yitzchok Frankel, a law student and father of four, alleges he faced antisemitic harassment and was forced to abandon his regular routes through campus because of the so-called Jewish “exclusion zone,” the suit states.
Joshua Ghayoum, a sophomore and history major, says he was repeatedly blocked from accessing the library and other public spaces. Mr. Ghayoum alleges he heard chants at the encampment including “death to Jews,” according to the lawsuit.
The third plaintiff, law student Eden Shemuelian, contends her final exam studies were severely compromised when she was forced to walk around the encampment and face antisemitic chants and signs to access the law school’s library.
“This is America in 2024—not Germany in 1939,” Mr. Rienzi said. “It is disgusting that an elite American university would let itself devolve into a hotbed of antisemitism. UCLA’s administration should have to ... promise that Jews will never again be segregated on campus.”
Police ultimately dismantled the UCLA encampment in an overnight operation that saw more than 200 people arrested.
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