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An Inside Look on Legal Intake Since the Hamas Massacre on October 7

Never before have I seen anything like the avalanche of requests for legal help since the October 7 Hamas attack.

Jewish Journal

By Yael Lerman

November 16, 2023



I work as a civil rights lawyer at a Jewish nonprofit and have spent years helping students navigate incidents of antisemitism and discrimination. But never before have I seen anything like the avalanche of requests for legal help since the October 7 Hamas attack. It is not just the increased amount of intake but the type of incidents that are shocking. Until now, the vast majority of students contacting my organization reported incidents of antisemitic or anti-Zionist discrimination and harassment. Now, we are receiving a dramatic increase in reports of violence, threats, and intimidation. We suddenly find ourselves in a new legal landscape, and we are creating a new roadmap for how to respond.


In a typical year, we receive approximately 270 requests for legal help resulting from antisemitism — mainly from students in K-12 and on university campuses, but also from a handful of people affected in the workplace and in the community.


By contrast, in the last four weeks alone, we have received around 400 requests for legal help. The old intake seems benign compared to what we’re seeing now — violence and menacing threats. Here are just a few examples of shocking incidents behind the scenes:


• Two identifiably Jewish campus staff at a leading university received direct messages on their social media accounts threatening, “we’re coming to behead your babies.” They were so scared and shocked, they deleted the evidence.


• An identifiably Jewish student was attacked while walking through campus with an Israeli flag. The campus police saw it happen and refused to make an arrest. We are pursuing legal action against the police.


• A Jewish student on campus saw activists preparing to burn an Israeli flag. The student instinctively lunged to protect the flag — and was jumped and beaten by several students. His injuries needed medical treatment. He did not want legal support.


• Anti-Israel activists photographed Jewish community members attending a pro-Israel rally and then showed up days later at their places of employment. We helped them obtain local legal representation.


• At a party at George Mason University in Virginia, a Jewish student was assaulted, his Star of David necklace ripped from his neck, and antisemitic slurs hurled at him. The campus police have yet to take action even though the student provided them with the name of the perpetrator. We have sent a demand letter to the university.


• At a small liberal arts school with a radically anti-Israel campus culture, the only Israeli professor on campus contacted us for legal help with several problems. As we build a legal case showing a pervasive antisemitic campus climate, she needs a police escort as she goes to and from the classroom, where she has to teach in front of students who attend her class wearing Hamas shirts and necklaces showing the map of Israel with a knife through it.


• An Israeli-American woman received a direct message to her social media account from an unknown person whose profile is in Arabic. It said, “We know your location and we are coming for you soon. You have a choice to remain and die … or flee.” When she reported this threat to local police and FBI, she was told that authorities are working overtime dealing with antisemitic intake, and they cannot take immediate action to investigate the threat.


The good news is that many victims are reporting the incidents, and people of conscience are determined to hold accountable not just the perpetrators but the faculty, administrators and campus police who excuse the perpetrators or deliberately ignore them.

The bad news is that new cases like these are increasing. The good news is that many victims are reporting the incidents, and people of conscience are determined to hold accountable not just the perpetrators but the faculty, administrators and campus police who excuse the perpetrators or deliberately ignore them. We are using every legal means at our disposal at the federal, state and local levels through demand letters, school board grievances, nationwide petitions, targeted lawsuits, reports to states’ attorneys general and Department of Education Title VI filings. And we have an army of pro bono attorneys across the U.S. offering help at this time.


But legal organizations such as mine are no substitute for law enforcement. Alongside the dramatic increased caseload my colleagues and I are trying to manage, we need police — particularly campus police — prosecutors and attorneys general to increase their efforts just as dramatically. When antisemites break the law, they must be swiftly arrested and prosecuted — not just because victims deserve justice, but because handcuffs, fines, and jail are a deterrent.


In the meantime, we implore students and anyone in the community: If you are threatened as a Jew or Israeli, take it seriously. Report it. You are not alone. We will help you hold the haters accountable.


Yael Lerman is the director of the StandWithUs Saidoff Legal Department. She can be reached at legal@standwithus.com.


Read the full article HERE.


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