In June 2017, a group of San Francisco State University (SFSU) students and members of the local Jewish community filed a lawsuit against the university, alleging the school has a long-standing policy of anti-Semitism and overt discrimination against Jewish students.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the plaintiffs by attorneys from The Lawfare Project and the global law firm Winston & Strawn LLP. The suit was filed after university administrators were alleged to have ordered campus police do nothing as pro-Palestinian protesters disrupted an April 2016 speech given by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat on campus, and threatened members of the audience. The lawsuit also listed various instances of anti-Semitism over the years at SFSU that the university never took action on.
In November 2017, U.S. District Judge William Orrick said he would dismiss the suit, ruling it was too vague and didn’t center on present-day issues at the university. However, on March 9, he gave The Lawfare Project the opportunity to amend and refile the suit.
On March 29, The Lawfare Project refiled its suit to include additional plaintiffs and new claims, including that the university didn’t discipline a Palestinian student who threatened Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers, and in doing so violated Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
“As a former member of the IDF, I was horrified and terrified when I found out that one of my classmates had expressed a desire to kill Israeli soldiers.” — Shachar Ben-David
Shachar Ben-David, a former IDF soldier who graduated from SFSU in 2014, was informed by a classmate in 2013 that Mohammad Hammad, president of the General Union of Palestinian Students (GUPS), had written some posts on Tumblr “describing [Hammad’s] desire to set children on fire, radicalize his classmates, join Palestinian terrorist organizations and behead Israeli soldiers.”
Among Hammad’s posts on Tumblr was a picture of a blade, and Hammad allegedly wrote: “It cuts through everything like butter and just holding it makes me want to stab an Israeli soldier.”
Ben-David told her professor and university administrators that she felt threatened with Hammad in the same classroom. The university allegedly responded by removing Ben-David, not Hammad from the classroom and offering her psychological counseling.
“As a former member of the IDF, I was horrified and terrified when I found out that one of my classmates had expressed a desire to kill Israeli soldiers,” Ben-David said in a statement released by The Lawfare Project. “The University did nothing to protect me, and in fact left me even more vulnerable by declaring that Hammad was suspended or expelled when, in actuality, he was still a student at SFSU. I’m taking action now to ensure that other Jewish and Israeli students at SFSU never have to experience that kind of fear and humiliation again.”
In 2014, Ben-David told local Bay Area television station KTVU that she had to take her finals in a separate room “because it turned out [Hammad] was in a class [in which] I was very vocal about being Israeli and an Israel supporter.”
The March 29 complaint alleges that Hammad left SFSU in January 2014 for unstated reasons but eventually was allowed to return and earn his degree. The FBI reportedly investigated Hammad for the posts in question but concluded “he did not pose any criminal or national security threat.”
A new claim in the lawsuit alleges that the SFSU is suppressing a report — thereby violating the California Public Records Act — detailing why the university didn’t allow SFSU Hillel to participate in the February 2017 “Know Your Rights” fair that informs students about potential threats to their rights and physical safety given the new, hostile political climate.
“Having had the opportunity to amend the complaint to include two new student plaintiffs, and additional new claims alleging violations of the California Public Records Act and Title VI national origin discrimination, we are very confident that this crucial case will proceed to the [discovery] phase of the litigation,” Lawfare Project Director of Legal Affairs Amanda Berman said in a statement to the Journal.
A spokesperson for SFSU said in an email to the Journal, “In light of the pending litigation and the confidentiality of student records, we are unable to provide the information responsive to your question at this time.”