Harvard sued by Jewish students over antisemitism on campus

(Reuters) – Harvard University has been sued by Jewish students who accused it of allowing its campus to become a “bastion” of rampant antisemitism.

In a complaint filed on Wednesday night, students accused Harvard of “selectively” enforcing its anti-discrimination policies to avoid protecting Jewish students from harassment, ignoring their pleas for protection, and hiring professors who support anti-Jewish violence and spread antisemitic propaganda.

“Based on its track record, it is inconceivable that Harvard would allow any group other than Jews to be targeted for similar abuse or that it would permit, without response, students and professors to call for the annihilation of any country other than Israel,” the complaint said.

The complaint accused the prestigious 388-year-old university of violating a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination.

It was filed eight days after Harvard president Claudine Gay resigned, under fire for her handling of antisemitism in the wake of Hamas’ Oct. 7, 2023, attack on Israel. She also faced plagiarism allegations.

Harvard did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Thursday.

Academic institutions around the world have been rocked by disputes over free speech and the right to protest since the Israel-Hamas war broke out in Gaza.

Other schools, including New York University and the University of California, Berkeley, face similar lawsuits.

Plaintiffs in the Harvard lawsuit include Alexander Kestenbaum, a master’s degree candidate at Harvard Divinity School.

They also include five unnamed students at Harvard’s law and public health schools, and the nonprofit Students Against Antisemitism.

The students said it is no defense for Harvard to sit idly and allow escalating “Jew-bashing” because of the purported need to let people express themselves freely.

They also said Harvard’s bias extends to admissions, including an alleged 60% decline in the number of Jewish students, mirroring quotas the school had a century ago.

More than 30 student groups at Harvard signed a petition the day after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, blaming Israel.

According to the complaint, the school took a day to respond, offering “platitudes” but neither condemnation of the petition nor support for Jewish students.

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

Gay resigned after being slow to condemn Hamas’ attack, and botching her Dec. 5 Congressional testimony by failing to definitively say that calling for the genocide of Jews violated Harvard’s code of conduct.

The complaint filed in Boston federal court demands the suspension or expulsion of students who engage in antisemitism, and return of donations conditioned on hiring antisemitic professors or promoting an antisemitic curriculum.

The students are also seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Ros Russell and Daniel Wallis)