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Civil-Rights Office Dismisses Complaint Alleging Anti-Semitism at Berkeley

[Updated (8/28/2013, 5:56 p.m.) to include details that the civil-rights office had also dismissed similar complaints against the university's Irvine and Santa Cruz campuses.]

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has dismissed a complaint against the University of California at Berkeley asserting that anti-Israel protests on the campus created a hostile environment for Jewish students, according to reports by the Los Angeles Times and Berkeley’s news center.

The office began its investigation last year after receiving a complaint on behalf of a student and a former student who had sued Berkeley, accusing it of tolerating anti-Semitism. In a settlement with the university, the two plaintiffs agreed to drop their lawsuit, which they had been asking an appellate court to reinstate. Their lawyer then asked the Office for Civil Rights to investigate what the students described as “a pervasive hostile environment toward Jews” on the campus.

In a letter to the university last week, a copy of which is posted on the Berkeley center’s Web site, the federal office announced that it was closing its investigation after determining that the campus demonstrations cited by the plaintiffs “do not constitute actionable harassment.”

“In the university environment,” the letter states, “exposure to such robust and discordant expressions, even when personally offensive and hurtful, is a circumstance that a reasonable student in higher education may experience.”

Berkeley’s chancellor, Nicholas B. Dirks, said university officials were pleased with the outcome of the investigation. “The claim that there is a hostile environment for Jewish students at Berkeley is, on its face, entirely unfounded,” he said. He added that the university would continue its efforts “to protect free-speech rights while promoting respectful dialogue and maintaining a campus environment that is safe for all our students.”

Joel H. Siegal, the lawyer who filed the complaint with the civil-rights office, said he was contemplating an appeal of the decision.

The Associated Press reported Wednesday that the civil-rights office had also dismissed similar complaints against the university’s Irvine and Santa Cruz campuses.

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