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Harvard ‘deliberately indifferent to pervasive antisemitism on campus,’ lawsuit alleges 

“The arrogance is breathtaking,” said Kenneth L. Marcus, of the Brandeis Center. “They know there’s a problem. They’ve been told to deal with it. And yet they refuse again and again.”

Entrance gate and east facade of Sever Hall at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. Credit: Roman Babakin/Shutterstock.
Entrance gate and east facade of Sever Hall at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. Credit: Roman Babakin/Shutterstock.

The Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law sued Harvard University on Wednesday, alleging that the university knowingly discriminated against Jews.

The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, states that Harvard “has been deliberately indifferent to the pervasive antisemitism on campus, creating an unbearable educational environment,” both before and after Oct. 7.

Kenneth L. Marcus, founder and chairman of the Brandeis Center, told JNS that the Ivy League school in Cambridge, Mass., has long failed to protect its Jewish students.

“It is remarkable that Harvard has acknowledged the discrimination that these students are facing and yet has failed to deal with it,” Marcus said. “The arrogance is breathtaking. They know there’s a problem. They’ve been told to deal with it, and yet they refuse again and again.”

“They don’t act this way towards any other group,” he added. “It’s only with anti-Jewish discrimination.”

The lawsuit is the latest example of a slew of complaints that have been filed in courts or with the U.S. Department of Education alleging civil rights violations against Jews at universities including Columbia University, the University of Pennsylvania, Haverford College and New York University.

The suit, in which the Brandeis Center is also a plaintiff, describes how three Jewish-Israeli students at the Harvard Kennedy School proposed a class project about the “shared ethos of Israel as a liberal Jewish democracy.”

Their professor, Marshall Ganz, told them to drop the proposal because he said the concept of Jewish democracy was “offensive,” the suit alleges. (Ganz, a senior lecturer in leadership, organizing and civil society at the school, notes in his official bio that his father was a rabbi.)

“He told them that it was not the particular phraseology they had chosen but the very word ‘Jewish’ being associated with ‘democracy’ that was so offensive,” the lawsuit alleges. “Professor Ganz said that using ‘Jewish’ and ‘democracy’ together ‘creates an unsafe space’ for classmates. He compared their use of the words ‘Jewish state’ to a student advocating for America to become a country of ‘white supremacy.’”

Ganz allegedly warned the trio that there would be “consequences” if they went ahead with their presentation.

On the last day of class, Ganz’s conduct “metastasized into a full-scale taunting and humiliating” of the three students, per the suit. The professor and his teaching fellows organized a “Palestinian solidarity” presentation that included “a litany of aggressively anti-Israeli diatribes” and antisemitic stories, the lawsuit states.

“The only option for the HKS members was to subject themselves to the abuse or to leave,” the complaint alleges. “They opted to politely remain and subject themselves to the harassment, but, before class ended, HKS members approached Professor Ganz and requested an opportunity to respond.”

“They sought to defend these attacks on their identity, which Professor Ganz had purposefully invited, and to provide a different perspective, so the class could have a better, more comprehensive understanding of the events in the Middle East,” it adds.

Kenneth Marcus
Kenneth L. Marcus, founder and chairman of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law. Credit: Courtesy.

Ganz rejected the request and told the Harvard Kennedy School students they “had caused enough problems already” and that “they would have to go elsewhere to make their points,” per the lawsuit.

An external investigator that the school hired to evaluate the students’ claims of discrimination found that the school had “created a hostile learning environment for the Harvard Kennedy School students based on their Israeli nationality and Jewish ethnicity and ancestry, and effectively denied them the opportunities of a safe learning environment in the course.”

That language is similar to how the U.S. Department of Education defines a violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which forbids institutions that receive federal funds from discriminating on the basis of “race, color or national origin,” or other “shared ancestry.”

“A school or college violates Title VI if it intentionally treats persons differently or otherwise causes them harm because of their race, or if a school or college creates or is responsible for a racially hostile environment,” per a departmental fact sheet.

A mob had formed

In June, one day after the university received the external investigator’s report, Douglas Elmendorf, dean of the Kennedy School, wrote to the three students that he had accepted a “majority” of the report’s findings and conclusions.

Marcus told JNS that it was “extraordinary” that Harvard accepted the report’s conclusions about the extent of the hostile environment they created for Jews and still failed to take action to rectify the problem.

“It is highly unusual to see the sort of admissions that we’ve seen from Harvard or the length and breadth of the problems there,” Marcus said.

The incidents with the Harvard Kennedy School students occurred in the spring and summer of 2023. Still, the suit also details the explosion of Jew-hatred on Harvard’s campus since Oct. 7, including the physical assault of a fourth Israeli-Jewish student at the business school by anti-Israel protesters.

The fourth student was walking near Klarman Hall associated with the business school when he encountered a Harvard-sanctioned “die-in” calling for an end to “genocide” in Gaza on a school quad that is accessible to all Harvard students, per the suit.

“Additional individuals began to approach and gather around Member No. 4, surrounded him with keffiyehs and then violently grabbed him,” the suit adds. “The mob that had formed swarmed in even closer, constantly repeating the word ‘exit’—making it very clear that somebody like Member No. 4, an Israeli Jewish student, was not welcome.”

“Multiple members of the mob began to forcefully grab him and physically push him back away from the protest,” per the suit. “Member No. 4 repeatedly pleaded with those assaulting him to stop, but they refused.”

The 72-page filing alleges that Harvard opened a preliminary investigation but otherwise took no action against the students who were part of the mob.

A U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce report released last week concluded that Harvard ignored its own antisemitism taskforce when it called on the administration to simply apply and enforce its own anti-discrimination and diversity, equity and inclusion policies to Jews.

Marcus made the same point to JNS.

“It’s not just that Harvard is ignoring Jews in their DEI program but also that they are downplaying or disregarding their own antisemitism advisory council,” he said. “All they really need to do is to listen to their own people. Their refusal to do so is quite alarming.”

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