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Jewish Students Sue Harvard University, Allege ‘Severe’ Antisemitism on Campus

A federal lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Boston alleging Harvard failed to address antisemitism on campus.
A federal lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Boston alleging Harvard failed to address antisemitism on campus. By Naomi S. Castellon-Perez
By Michelle N. Amponsah, Crimson Staff Writer

Six Jewish students filed a federal lawsuit against Harvard on Wednesday, alleging that the University has failed to address “severe and pervasive” antisemitism on campus.

The nearly 80-page suit — filed on behalf of the students by Donnelly, Conroy & Gelhaar and Kasowitz Benson Torres in U.S. District Court in Boston — alleges that Harvard’s “deliberate indifference” and “enabling” of antisemitism violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin by institutions that receive federal funding.

“Harvard, America’s leading university, has become a bastion of rampant anti-Jewish hatred and harassment,” the complaint states.

Harvard spokesperson Jason A. Newton declined to comment on the lawsuit, citing pending litigation.

Only one plaintiff in the complaint, Harvard Divinity school student Shabbos “Alexander” Kestenbaum, is named, while the other five students are identified as members of the non-profit organization Students Against Antisemitism.

Kestenbaum said in a Thursday interview with The Crimson that though antisemitism at Harvard “did not begin on October 7,” after Hamas’ attack on Israel, it has “skyrocketed” and become “out of control.”

“It became so unbearable that this was our only option,” Kestenbaum said.

The suit documents numerous allegations of antisemitism on Harvard’s campus, specifically naming several student groups including Harvard BDS, Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine, the Harvard Islamic Society, and the Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee — which penned the original statement calling Israel “entirely responsible for the Oct. 7 attacks.”

The complaint states that Jewish students have been not only “attacked on social media” but also “dismissed and intimidated” by faculty.

The lawsuit, in an apparent reference to pro-Palestine protesters, also alleges that “mobs of pro-Hamas students and faculty” have marched through Harvard’s campus and occupied buildings and libraries “for days or weeks at a time, promoting violence against Jews and harassing and assaulting them on campus.”

In October, a Jewish student was confronted by protesters during a pro-Palestine “die-in” at the Harvard Business School, during which the student came into physical contact with some of the protesters. The student was filming the faces of pro-Palestine activists, who were previously subjected to doxxing attacks, when the confrontation took place.

In November, nine pro-Palestine students occupied University Hall for 24 hours, one of at least two demonstrations publicly known to result in a disciplinary response. Last month, students staged an hour-long silent “study-in” at Widener Library. No building on Harvard’s campus has been occupied for more than 24 hours by pro-Palestine students or faculty.

According to a Thursday morning press release from Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP, the complaint seeks damages and requests Harvard implement “concrete remedial measures” to combat antisemitism, including disciplinary measures against administrators, faculty, students, and staff who display antisemitic conduct.

The suit also requests that Harvard decline and return donations “conditioned on the hiring or promotion of professors who espouse antisemitism or the inclusion of antisemitic coursework of curricula.”

The suit comes amid a congressional investigation into alleged antisemitism on Harvard’s campus. The University is currently in the process of producing a long list of documents and internal communications requested by Congress.

Corrections: Janurary 12, 2024

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that nine pro-Palestine Jewish students occupied University Hall for 24 hours. In fact, only some of the pro-Palestine students who occupied University Hall were Jewish.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the University Hall occupation was the only demonstration publicly known to result in a disciplinary response. In fact, at least two pro-Palestine protests on campus have resulted in disciplinary action.

—Staff writer Michelle N. Amponsah can be reached at michelle.amponsah@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X at @mnamponsah.

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