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Harvard Seeks To Dismiss Lawsuit Alleging ‘Pervasive’ Antisemitism on Campus

The John J. Moakley United States Courthouse is located in Boston's Seaport District. Harvard asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit alleging the University failed to effectively address campus antisemitism.
The John J. Moakley United States Courthouse is located in Boston's Seaport District. Harvard asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit alleging the University failed to effectively address campus antisemitism. By Caleb D. Schwartz
By Michelle N. Amponsah and Joyce E. Kim, Crimson Staff Writers

Updated April 15, 2024, at 1:06 a.m.

Harvard filed a motion in federal court on Friday to dismiss a lawsuit filed by six Jewish students that alleged the University failed to address “severe and pervasive” antisemitism on campus.

The University’s 38-page memorandum in support of its motion to dismiss outlined the “tangible steps” Harvard’s administration has taken to investigate and tackle antisemitism on its campus, including the presidential task force on combating antisemitism that interim Harvard President Alan M. Garber ’76 established in January.

“In an institution dedicated to principles of academic freedom and speech, grappling with the limits of dissent and protest across a dozen undergraduate and graduate schools enrolling more than 20,000 students takes serious work, thoughtful consideration, and time,” the filing states.

“Without minimizing at all the importance of the need to address energetically antisemitism at the University, Plaintiffs’ dissatisfaction with the strategy and speed of Harvard’s essential work does not state a legally cognizable claim,” the filing adds. “Consequently, the Amended Complaint should be dismissed.”

The University’s motion to dismiss comes exactly three months after Harvard Divinity School student Shabbos “Alexander” Kestenbaum and Students Against Antisemitism, Inc. — a group of five non-identified Jewish students — sued the University in federal district court. The suit stated that Harvard “has become a bastion of rampant anti-Jewish hatred and harassment.”

In a Saturday evening statement, Kestenbaum wrote that the University leadership has “failed Jews repeatedly.”

“Harvard’s meritless motion to dismiss our lawsuit only proves our point: it has never taken the concerns of us Jewish students seriously, and has no plans to start now,” he wrote.

“We will continue to apply maximum pressure in both the court of law and the court of public opinion,” Kestenbaum added. “We hope that donors and prospective students follow closely.”

Harvard spokesperson Jason A. Newton reiterated Harvard’s efforts to combat antisemitism in a Sunday statement.

“Harvard is committed to combatting antisemitism and ensuring that our Jewish students, faculty, staff, and alumni know they are safe, valued, and embraced in our community,” he wrote.

Newton declined to comment on the motion, citing pending litigation.

Since the filing of Kestenbaum’s lawsuit, the University has continued to attract public attention for instances of campus antisemitism as well as for its efforts to tackle antisemitism and anti-Mulsim and anti-Arab bias.

In January, Harvard leadership asked the creators of Sidechat – an anonymous social media app — to more strictly enforce the app’s content moderation policies after a string of antisemitic posts on the platform. The presence of antisemitic posts on Sidechat were also mentioned in the antisemitism suit against Harvard.

In February, the appearance of anonymous posters around Harvard Yard and poster vandalisms further increased tensions on campus. A man contracted by Harvard to do groundskeeping work was filmed tearing down posters of Israeli hostages from a publicity area in Harvard Yard.

Later that month, two pro-Palestine student groups included an antisemitic image in an Instagram post, drawing harsh condemnation from Garber and Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana.

Harvard’s motion to dismiss comes amid an ongoing congressional investigation over antisemitism on campus — an investigation that has placed University leadership in a tight legal spot as it faces congressional subpoenas and backlash over its response.

—Staff writer Michelle N. Amponsah can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @mnamponsah.

—Staff writer Joyce E. Kim can be reached at Follow her on X at @joycekim324.

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