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Six Jewish students sue Harvard University for discrimination

“Harvard is a ripe target for antisemitism litigation,” said Kenneth L. Marcus, of the Brandeis Center. "No one should be surprised to see this lawsuit filed."

Statue of John Harvard on the Harvard University campus in Cambridge, Mass. Credit: Jay Yuan/Shutterstock.
Statue of John Harvard on the Harvard University campus in Cambridge, Mass. Credit: Jay Yuan/Shutterstock.

Six Jewish students are suing Harvard University alleging a hostile, antisemitic environment in violation of civil-rights law, the New York law firm representing them announced on Thursday.

The six, represented by Kasowitz Benson Torres, say in their 77-page suit that the Ivy League school in Cambridge, Mass., discriminates against Jewish students in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“Harvard’s antisemitism cancer—as a past Harvard president termed it—manifests itself in a double standard invidious to Jews,” per the suit. “Harvard selectively enforces its policies to avoid protecting Jewish students from harassment, hires professors who support anti-Jewish violence and spread antisemitic propaganda and ignores Jewish students’ pleas for protection.”

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act protects against discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin in any federal-funded program. Harvard received $676 million—11% of its total revenue—from the federal government in 2023, according to its annual financial report.

Harvard’s hostile, antisemitic environment has become acute in the aftermath of Hamas’s Oct. 7 terror attacks on Israel, with the university failing to take action against professors and students who celebrated the massacre and disrupted life on campus with anti-Israel protests, per the suit.

“When, in clear violation of Harvard policies, a mob of students took over a campus building to further their antisemitic agenda, Harvard’s response was not to remove and discipline them, but to supply them with burritos and candy,” the lawsuit states, among other examples.

Kenneth L. Marcus, founder and chairman of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law and a former assistant U.S. secretary of education for civil rights, told JNS that there is reason to believe that Harvard is in legal jeopardy.

“Harvard is a ripe target for antisemitism litigation, and no one should be surprised to see this lawsuit filed,” Marcus said. “It may be the first but probably won’t be the last in light of both the nature of the events that they faced and also the feebleness of their responses.”

‘Not just one random complaint’

Jason Newton, a Harvard spokesman, told JNS that the university had no comment on the pending litigation but pointed to a Nov. 9 statement from Harvard’s former president Claudine Gay about actions the school was taking to combat antisemitism on campus.

Newton added that Harvard would not comment on disciplinary actions against students. He cited news articles about proceedings against students, who took part in disruptive anti-Israel demonstrations.

Gay resigned as president on Jan. 2 amid allegations that she had plagiarized parts of her academic work and in the aftermath of her congressional testimony, in which she was asked if calling for the genocide of Jews would violate Harvard’s code of conduct.

“It depends on the context,” said Gay, who remains a member of the faculty reportedly with a $900,000 salary.

Gay later apologized for that response in an interview with The Harvard Crimson.

“When words amplify distress and pain, I don’t know how you could feel anything but regret,” Gay said.

Despite Gay’s resignation, Harvard continues to face congressional scrutiny as part of an investigation by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce into Jew-hatred on U.S. campuses. 

Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) launched the investigation on Jan. 9 with a letter to the Harvard Corporation’s senior fellow and the university’s interim president.

Marcus told JNS that congressional investigation and civil rights lawsuits would amplify the pressure on Harvard to deal with complaints of antisemitism on campus.

“The combined pressure of the congressional inquiry together with multiple complaints will sooner or later add up,” he predicted.

“This is not just one random complaint,” he added. “It is part of a broader effort to hold Harvard responsible for its failure to comply with federal civil-rights laws when it comes to Jewish students.”

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