Six students sued Harvard on Wednesday, claiming that the renowned university had become a “bastion of rampant anti-Jewish hatred and harassment” that was exacerbated by the Hamas attack on Israel last October.
The complaint, filed in federal court in Massachusetts, says that Harvard professors have promulgated antisemitism in their courses and intimidated students who object.
“What is most striking about all of this is Harvard’s abject failure and refusal to lift a finger to stop and deter this outrageous antisemitic conduct and penalize the students and faculty who perpetrate it,” the lawsuit says.
Like other schools, Harvard has been roiled by demonstrations and confrontations between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian students since the conflict broke out. In December, the presidents of Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania and M.I.T. testified at a congressional hearing investigating campus antisemitism. Harvard’s president at the time, Claudine Gay, the first Black person in that role, faced fierce backlash over her remarks, which were among the factors leading to her resignation this month.
Harvard is also among a growing list of universities facing federal civil rights investigations into allegations of antisemitism.
The school did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and declined to provide a comment to The Harvard Crimson, the campus newspaper, citing pending litigation.
Previously, the university has said it does not tolerate any form of antisemitism. Before Dr. Gay’s resignation, she said in a statement: “My administration has repeatedly made crystal clear that antisemitism and other forms of hate have no place at Harvard. Threats and intimidation have no place at Harvard.”
The 77-page complaint names one plaintiff, Alexander Kestenbaum, a Jewish student enrolled at Harvard Divinity School. The other five plaintiffs are not named in the case, but four are listed as law school students, and one is listed as a public health Ph.D. student. All are members of Students Against Antisemitism, a group that was formed last month in Delaware.
The case was filed on behalf of the Harvard students by two law firms, including Kasowitz Benson Torres, a firm in New York. The law firm recently filed similar cases against New York University and the University of Pennsylvania.
Kasowitz Benson Torres is known for its ties to the Trump administration, and the claims in the Harvard lawsuit rely partly on an executive order signed by former President Donald J. Trump in 2019 that said a section of the Civil Rights Act applied to discrimination against Jews in institutions that receive federal assistance.
The complaint goes so far as to accuse Harvard of deliberately reducing the enrollment of Jewish students, claiming there was a sharp drop over a decade “that could only evince a deliberate effort by Harvard to minimize its Jewish student population.”
The complaint cites a litany of instances dating back to 2016 that the students called antisemitic.
“Harvard’s double standard starts at the top,” the plaintiffs say in the suit, claiming that the school requires students to take a training class warning that they will be disciplined if they engage in “sizeism, fatphobia, racism, transphobia or other disfavored behavior” yet allows students and faculty members to “advocate, without consequence, the murder of Jews and the destruction of Israel, the only Jewish country in the world.”
The case points to a screening at Harvard Divinity School last September of the film “Israelism,” which argues that American Jews raise their children with pro-Israel indoctrination. The screening caused Mr. Kestenbaum to suffer “anxiety and gross discomfort,” the complaint said.
“Antisemitic tropes displayed during that screening drew applause rather than denunciation,” the lawsuit said.
The students in the suit demand the removal of some professors who participated in the instances they list and seek unspecified compensation.