Brandeis Center Sues Harvard Over Allegedly Ignoring, Tolerating Antisemitism on Campus

Suit claims antisemitism is “pervasive” on the Ivy League campus.
May 24, 2024
People walk through the gate on Harvard Yard at the Harvard University campus on June 29, 2023 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)

The Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law filed a lawsuit against Harvard University on May 22 alleging that the university has ignored and tolerated antisemitism on campus, thus causing it to be pervasive.

The lawsuit, which was obtained by the Journal, alleges that the Oct. 7 massacre sparked “vicious antisemitism on campus,” pointing to how a day after the massacre, the Palestine Solidarity Undergraduate Committee and 33 other student groups penned a letter solely blaming Israel’s “apartheid regime” for the carnage; the letter did not condemn Hamas. According to the lawsuit, university leadership subsequently issued a statement saying they were “heartbroken — not solely or specifically by the carnage of Jews and Israelis wrought by the Hamas attack but by unspecified ‘death and destruction’ the attack had ‘unleashed’ and the larger ‘war in Israel and Gaza now under way.’” The lawsuit claims that leadership “also did not condemn the PSC letter for blaming Israel, nor did it offer any specific consolation for Jewish students — indeed, it did not mention Harvard’s Jewish students at all. Instead, it promised to ‘take steps as an academic community to deepen our knowledge of the unfolding events and their broader implications for the region and the world.”

Then-President Claudine Gay made a statement condemning the Hamas atrocities on Oct. 7 but didn’t “condemn the PSC letter and noted only that student groups do not speak for Harvard University or its leadership. President Gay also made no mention of antisemitism or protecting Jewish students on campus … The statements by President Gay and Harvard leadership were woefully inadequate and signaled that antisemitism was tolerable and just another element of the Harvard experience … Students received the message that they would face no repercussions, even for the most vile, anti-Jewish or anti-Israel statements.”

The lawsuit proceeds to detail how an anonymous Jewish-Israeli graduate student at the Harvard Business School was assaulted after he started recording anti-Israel protesters on campus participating in a die-in. “When protestors saw him and identified him as Jewish and/or Israeli, they accosted him. A mob surrounded him, engulfed him with keffiyehs, and chanted ‘Shame! Shame! Shame!’ in his face,” the lawsuit states. “The assailants grabbed him, and one hit him in the neck with his forearm, before forcing [the student] out of Harvard’s quad. The video of the assault is shocking. But more remarkable perhaps is that Harvard has not taken any action to date.” Thus far, the university has stated that they are waiting out “an ongoing criminal investigation” against the assailants, but the lawsuit contends that the “assault was caught on tape, and the offenders have been identified. Harvard can make its own assessment, based on its own policies, and it can act accordingly.”

The assaulted student was subsequently subjected to “defamatory remarks” online accusing the student of being aggressive with his recording and stepping over people, harassing the protesters and that none of the protesters got “physical” with him.

Another anonymous student cited in the lawsuit stays clear from campus after being subjected to Harvard students screaming “F— you! Free Palestine! Harvard supports genocide!” and “You guys are liars!” while the student was at an event providing support for those being held hostage by Hamas. They have also seen “numerous antisemitic, anti-Israel posts by physicians, professors, and researchers affiliated with Harvard” on X, such as one professor allegedly reposting tweets stating “explain to me again the difference between Hitler exterminating the Jews and the Jews exterminating the Palestinian people” and “Zionists have been violently displacing & dispossessing Palestinians to achieve [their] ‘dream’ for over 75 years,” in response to, “Zionist doctors have facilitated in the genocide of Palestinians,” per the lawsuit. “This has made it incredibly difficult for (the student) to engage with those faculty members, see them at interdisciplinary seminars or networking events for women in STEM, or to go to campus in general.”

There have also been documented instances of students posting “vile antisemitic statements and conspiracy theories” on “Sidechat,” a digital platform that allows anonymous texting and is accessible to anyone with a Harvard email address. The statements included calling a Jewish student “pro-genocide” who “looks just as dumb as her nose is crooked” and another posting a rhyme about “Hillel burning in hell” because it’s funded by Jeffrey Epstein and “supports genocide,” per the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also states that “several student groups and a faculty group posted an antisemitic cartoon on their social media accounts” in February of “a hand etched with a Star of David and a dollar sign holding a noose around the necks of what appear to be a black man and an Arab man.”

In March, Harvard Law School’s student government voted on a resolution anonymously in a “secret and rushed anti-Israel resolution accusing Israel of ‘ethnic cleansing,’ ‘genocide,’ and ‘illegal occupation of Palestine.’ Despite the fact that Israel exited Gaza in 2005.” The resolution called for Harvard “to divest completely from weapons manufacturers, firms, academic programs, corporations, and all other institutions that aid the ongoing illegal occupation of Palestine and the genocide of the Palestinians.”

The lawsuit goes into great detail about allegations preceding Oct. 7 accusing Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) Lecturer Marshall Ganz of marginalizing and belittling three Jewish Israeli students for referring to Israel as a “Jewish democracy” in their group project. The school hired an outside investigator to review the allegations against Ganz, and the university accepted the majority of investigator’s findings that Ganz violated university policy and discriminated the students based their Jewish and Israeli identities, per the lawsuit. Not only did HKS not take any action against Ganz, it also celebrated him “as a civil rights hero,” the lawsuit alleges. For his part, Ganz — who is Jewish — told The Harvard Crimson that the investigation was a “kangaroo court” and accused Dean Doug Elmendorf of preventing him from talking to lawyers during the investigation and that the school didn’t bring in other faculty members in during the fact-finding part of the process. A spokesperson for HKS denied Ganz’s allegations, telling the Crimson that three senior faculty members advised him “on appropriate action and prevention of future incidents” and that “all parties were given the opportunity to present evidence and to review and comment on preliminary findings. The Dean then took action responsive to the allegations.” The spokesperson added that “the investigator reviewed documentary evidence and interviewed at length both the students and Professor Ganz to hear their perspectives.”

Ganz told the Crimson that he simply advised the three students to “reframe” the project, calling their project “inflammatory” because the class isn’t about Middle East politics, but community organizing. Multiple faculty members gave statements in support of Ganz to the Crimson.

“For years Harvard’s leaders have allowed the school to become a breeding ground for hateful anti-Jewish and radical anti-Israel views,” Brandeis Center Founder and Chairman Kenneth L. Marcus said in a statement. “An outside investigator warned of the problem more than a year ago, Harvard Kennedy School’s Dean acknowledged it, and yet crickets. When are university leaders going to learn that in order to prevent your school from becoming a cesspool of antisemitism action is required? Schools must hold students and faculty accountable. They must follow through with public consequences when Jews are harassed and discriminated against like they would for any other minority group, as required by law.”

“An outside investigator warned of the problem more than a year ago, Harvard Kennedy School’s Dean acknowledged it, and yet crickets. When are university leaders going to learn that in order to prevent your school from becoming a cesspool of antisemitism action is required?”  – Kenneth L. Marcus

A university spokesperson said in a statement to The Journal, “Harvard has and will continue to be unequivocal – in our words and actions – that antisemitism is not and will not be tolerated on our campus. We remain committed to combating hate and to promoting and nurturing civil dialogue and respectful engagement.”

The university pointed the Journal to a list of actions Harvard has taken to combat antisemitism as of May 10, including increasing campus security, only allowing Harvard College students to access Sidechat and ensuring that its content moderation guidelines are being strictly enforced, maintaining a 24/7 hotline for incidents to be reported anonymously, holding spaces often in conjunction with Hillel for Jewish and Israeli students to connect and establishing the Presidential Task Force on Combating Antisemitism.

The spokesperson would not comment on the specifics of the lawsuit as university policy is not to comment on pending litigation.

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