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Federal Civil Rights Lawsuit Against Columbia University Alleges Hostile Antisemitic Environment for Jewish and Israeli Students

Kasowitz Files Title VI Suit on Behalf of StandWithUs Center for Legal Justice



(New York — February 21, 2024) The law firm Kasowitz Benson Torres today filed a federal lawsuit against Columbia University and Barnard College on behalf of Jewish and Israeli Columbia students who are victims of egregious and ongoing antisemitism. The complaint, filed in the Southern District of New York on behalf of StandWithUs Center for Legal Justice (SCLJ) and others, seeks injunctive relief and monetary damages concerning Columbia’s alleged violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and indifference to a pervasively hostile climate for Jews and Israelis.

 

The lawsuit details antisemitism at numerous schools at Columbia University, including Columbia’s School of General Studies and the Columbia School of Social Work and at Barnard College. It alleges that students have been physically assaulted, spit on, threatened, and treated unequally. Despite existing policies that are supposed to protect Jews and Israelis, Columbia has failed to act, denying students the education and opportunities that they are entitled to obtain at Columbia without regard to their shared ancestry, national origin, or religion.    

 

“Students at Columbia are enduring unprecedented levels of antisemitic and anti-Israel hate while coping with the trauma of Hamas’s October 7th massacre. By partnering with SCLJ, we will ensure that Columbia University is held accountable for their gross failure to protect their Jewish and Israeli students,” said Roz Rothstein, StandWithUs CEO and Co-Founder.

 

“Columbia refuses to enforce its policies or protect Jewish and Israeli members of the campus community,” said Yael Lerman, Director of StandWithUs Center for Legal Justice. “Columbia has created a pervasively hostile campus environment in which antisemitic activists act with impunity, knowing that there will be no real repercussions for their violations of campus policies. Our aim in being a plaintiff in this lawsuit is to hold Columbia accountable under Title VI for blatant failures to live up to their obligations under federal law and to compel Columbia to restore its campus to the safe environment for Jewish students that existed over twenty-five ago.”

 

The complaint also claims that Columbia breached its contractual relationship with plaintiffs when Jewish students enrolled at Columbia and paid tuition, expecting that Columbia would enforce its policies pertaining to harassment, intimidation, and discrimination.     

 

Read the complaint HERE, and act through this public petition.

 

The complaint’s examples of antisemitism at Columbia include:

 

Columbia refuses to enforce its own policies to protect Jewish students:

 

  • Five Jewish-Israeli Columbia students were assaulted in front of Butler Library on campus. The students were exiting the library when they were confronted by a fellow Columbia student tearing down hostage posters. The Jewish-Israeli students asked for their posters back, which they had hung up earlier in the day. The assailant attacked them with a stick, cursed at the group, and punched one of them. One suffered a broken finger and lacerations to his head. When the incident was reported to Columbia, the Jewish victim was advised to stay off campus in light of the planned “National Day of Resistance.” When the incident was reported to the police, the attacker was arrested and charged with assault.

  • Hundreds of students gathered on the steps of Low Library, where they kicked and knocked over metal barriers surrounding the Alma Mater statue, intimidated a group of pro-Israel students, and chanted “there is only one solution, Intifada revolution” and in Arabic, “from water to water, Palestine will be Arab.” Several students advanced on the pro-Israel students, blocking them with Palestinian flags. Columbia took no action.

  • A protest organizer, who was previously reported to the administration for his intimidation of Jewish students, was encroaching on and shouting through a megaphone at Israel supporters. Although a Columbia official acknowledged to the Columbia Spectator that “this was an unsanctioned event held by an unrecognized student coalition and that is a violation of university policies and procedures,” Columbia did not act to prevent the protest from occurring, remove attendees, or discipline students involved.

Columbia utilizes a double standard in addressing antisemitism:

  • Columbia’s deliberate indifference in response to antisemitism stands in stark contrast to its swift and decisive actions to address bias-related incidents when the victims are not Jewish or Israeli. This unlawful double standard has created and exacerbated the discrimination and harassment that Jewish and Israeli students are forced to endure at Columbia.

  • Columbia does not hesitate to discipline faculty who make racist or other controversial statements. Yet when the statements are antisemitic, Columbia does nothing. For example, in 2015, Columbia terminated a teaching assistant, in part, because he used the word “f***ed” in an email to students. In 2022, Columbia suspended its psychiatry department chair for tweeting a photo of an African model with the caption: “Whether a work of art or freak of nature she’s a beautiful sight to behold.”

  • But Columbia takes no action in response to numerous complaints about its faculty, including Rashid Khalidi, Hamid Dabashi, Joseph Massad, and Katherine Franke, who have repeatedly expressed antisemitic views, endorsed violence against Jews, and called for Israel’s violent destruction.

Columbia teaches a curriculum that promotes antisemitic worldviews and intentionally ignores the existence of antisemitism:

  • During freshman orientation, Columbia students must participate in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (“DEI”) training that focuses on identifying and combating a variety of discrimination and biases. Conspicuously omitted from the program is any mention of antisemitism.

  • During first year orientation, Columbia School of Social Work students are required to attend “Professional Development and Self Awareness Orientation” which slanders Jews as “oppressors.”

Columbia’s President Shafik downplays antisemitism, enabling a climate of antisemitism:

  • After October 7, as Columbia students and faculty celebrated Hamas’s slaughter, President Shafik said nothing. Two days later, President Shafik urged Columbia faculty to bring “clarity and context to this painful moment,” omitting any mention of “Hamas,” “terrorism,” or “antisemitism.”

  • When meeting with Jewish students at a “Listening Forum,” President Shafik doubted that Columbia could adequately address antisemitism; instead, she suggested that Columbia should prepare incoming students to be “more resilient” to the hostile campus environment.

Columbia campus police do not protect Jewish students:

 

  • During an on-campus Students for Justice in Palestine rally, a Jewish student was informed that Columbia police could not keep Jewish students safe and encouraged pro-Israel students to disperse for their own protection. As one Jewish student left the rally, he had an Israeli flag ripped off his back in a subway entrance situated next to, and within direct view of, a Public Safety guard booth.

  • A plaintiff was shoved by another student wearing a keffiyeh during a campus protest, whom the plaintiff recognized as a Columbia student. The plaintiff approached Public Safety to report the aggressor. Public Safety told the plaintiff to make an official report. But when the student filed a formal report with Public Safety, he was told they could do nothing.

Columbia awards discriminatory, antisemitic student leader:

 

  • On October 20, 2023, Lizzy George-Griffin, President of the LionLez club—an “event-based, social club designed for queer and non-binary people” emailed its members inviting them to a film screening and writing “It’s FREE PALESTINE over here. Zionists aren’t invited.” And later, “WHEN I SAY THE HOLOCAUST WASN’T SPECIAL, I MEAN THAT. . . . LionLez is run by people of color. For it to be a safe space for people of color, Zionists (all of whom are white supremacists) are not invited.  Ever.” Despite this blatant violation of school anti-discrimination policies, Columbia awarded George-Griffin with a “Multicultural Graduation Cord”—an honor bestowed by the Multicultural Affairs office on graduates who have demonstrated “an outstanding commitment to diversity, social justice, and multiculturalism through Multicultural Affairs, campus leadership, community involvement, academic endeavors, and/or personal dedication.”


As the Title VI complaint states, “Columbia has permitted endemic antisemitism to exclude Jewish and Israeli students from full and equal participation in, and to deprive them of the full and equal benefits of, their educational experience at Columbia, and has invidiously discriminated against them by, among other things, failing to protect them in the same way Columbia has protected other groups—all based on their race, ethnicity, religion, and/or national origin.  That Columbia has done so for many years and continues to this day further confirms that it has responded with at best deliberate indifference, that Columbia cannot be left to its own devices, and that its response has been clearly ineffective and clearly unreasonable.” 

 

The Title VI complaint further states, “Columbia must now be compelled to implement institutional, far-reaching, and concrete remedial measures. Columbia must also pay damages to plaintiffs—who have been robbed of their college and graduate school experience—to compensate them for the hostility they have been forced to endure as a consequence of Columbia’s unlawful conduct.”   

 

About the StandWithUs Center for Legal Justice  


StandWithUs Center for Legal Justice (SCLJ) is a tax-exempt membership organization that partners with StandWithUs, a nonprofit education organization dedicated to supporting Israel and combating antisemitism. Comprised of students in K-12 and college, professors, and community members, SCLJ enhances StandWithUs’ mission through impact litigation and other legal actions. Learn more at www.swulegaljustice.org.

 

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