Note: This item has been updated to correct some incorrect information.
The U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights is investigating allegations made by a faculty member that anti-Israeli sentiment by some faculty and campus speakers has made the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) a hostile place for Jewish students.
Allegations made by lecturer Tammi Rossman-Benjamin date back to 2001. Her June 2009 complaint says some professors used their classes to promote an anti-Israel agenda. "The impact of the academic and university-sponsored Israel-bashing on students has been enormous," she said. "There are students who have felt emotionally and intellectually harassed and intimidated, to the point they are reluctant or afraid to express a view that is not anti-Israel."
"Investigations are very common, but this is anything but the usual case," former head of the U.S. Commission on Human Rights, Kenneth Marcus said. "What they are investigating is the atmosphere throughout the university and raises very subtle questions about the definition of discrimination, the meaning of anti-Semitism and where the lines are between harassment and the First Amendment."
"We not only look forward to fully participating in OCR's review of the matter, we are confident that the agency will determine that the allegations are unfounded," UCSC counsel Carole Rossie said in a written statement.
On Tuesday, swastikas and a threatening message were found written in a campus bathroom. The message read: "Blood will be shed @ UCSC 4/20/11." It is not clear whether the graffiti is related to the investigation, the Santa Cruz Sentinel reported.
The Department of Education's investigation comes on the heels of a federal civil rights complaint filed March 4 against the Regents of the University of California and the University of California, Berkeley by former UC Berkeley student Jessica Felber. Felber alleges she was assaulted on campus last year by the leader of the student group Students for Justice in Palestine because she is Jewish and was holding a sign stating "Israel Wants Peace."
In November, 2007, the Department of Education's OCR replied to a complaint filed by the Zionist Organization of America on behalf of students at the University of California, Irvine, claiming that the university had been fostering a climate of anti-Semitism. The complaint was dismissed because at the time, OCR's policy did not apply Title VI protection to Jewish students.