Harvard sued for ignoring Jewish students’ civil rights, promoting ‘antisemitism cancer’ on campus

Six students filed a lawsuit against Harvard on Wednesday, claiming that the prestigious university had become a “bastion of rampant anti-Jewish hatred and harassment” that had been aggravated by the Hamas attack on Israel last October.

According to the complaint, which was filed in federal court in Massachusetts, Harvard instructors promoted antisemitism in their classes and bullied students who objected.

“What is most striking about all of this is Harvard’s abject failure and refusal to lift a finger to stop and deter this outrageous antisemitic conduct and penalize the students and faculty who perpetrate it,” according to the complaint.

Harvard sued for ignoring Jewish students' civil rights, promoting 'antisemitism cancer' on campus

Since the war began, Harvard, like other universities, has been roiled by rallies and clashes between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian students. The presidents of Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, and M.I.T. testified in December during a congressional hearing on campus antisemitism. Claudine Gay, Harvard’s first Black president at the time, experienced harsh criticism for her statements, which were one of the factors leading to her resignation last month.

Harvard is also one of a growing number of campuses facing federal civil rights investigations into antisemitism charges.

The university did not react immediately to a request for comment and declined to comment to The Harvard Crimson, the campus newspaper, citing pending litigation.

Previously, the university stated that it does not tolerate antisemitism in any form. Dr. Gay stated in a statement prior to her departure, “My administration has repeatedly made it clear that antisemitism and other forms of hatred have no place at Harvard.” At Harvard, threats and intimidation have no place.”

One plaintiff is named in the 77-page complaint: Alexander Kestenbaum, a Jewish student at Harvard Divinity School. The other five plaintiffs are not identified in the lawsuit, but four are law students and one is a Ph.D. student in public health. All are members of Students Against Antisemitism, a group that was founded in Delaware last month.

Two law firms, including Kasowitz Benson Torres in New York, filed the action on behalf of the Harvard students. Similar cases were recently brought by the law firm against New York University and the University of Pennsylvania.

Harvard sued for ignoring Jewish students' civil rights, promoting 'antisemitism cancer' on campus

The law firm Kasowitz Benson Torres is well-known for its ties to the Trump administration, and the claims in the Harvard lawsuit are based in part on an executive order signed by former President Donald J. Trump in 2019 that stated that a section of the Civil Rights Act applied to discrimination against Jews in institutions receiving federal funds.

The case goes so far as to accuse Harvard of purposefully lowering Jewish student enrollment, citing a ten-year reduction “that could only evince a deliberate effort by Harvard to minimize its Jewish student population.”

The complaint details a series of incidents dating back to 2016 that the students deemed antisemitic.

“Harvard’s double standard begins at the top,” the plaintiffs claim in their lawsuit, claiming that the university requires students to take a training class warning them that they will be disciplined if they engage in “sizeism, fatphobia, racism, transphobia, or other disfavored behavior,” yet allows students and faculty members to “advocate, without consequence, the murder of Jews and the destruction of Israel, the world’s only Jewish country.”

The argument cites a screening last September at Harvard Divinity School of the film “Israelism,” which contends that American Jews indoctrinate their youngsters with pro-Israel bias. The screening caused Mr. Kestenbaum “anxiety and gross discomfort,” according to the lawsuit.

“Antisemitic tropes displayed during that screening drew applause rather than denunciation,” according to the complaint.

The students in the action demand the dismissal of those instructors who were involved in the incidents they detail, as well as specific monetary compensation.

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