American University Hit With Federal Complaint Over ‘Rampant and Pervasive Anti-Semitism’

Jewish students spit on, harassed, persecuted by university students and administration

Front Gate at American University (Samschoe/Wikimedia Commons)
January 17, 2024

American University was hit with a federal complaint on Wednesday alleging a "rampant and pervasive" anti-Semitic environment on campus that includes Jewish students being spit upon, subjected to chants of "Zionist pig," and graffiti proclaiming, "Hitler was right."

The complaint, filed with the Education Department by the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law on behalf of the school’s Jewish population, alleges American University’s leadership is "fully aware of the pervasive and hostile environment for Jewish students, and not only ignored it, in some cases, it chose to subject Jewish whistleblowers to harassment and disciplinary proceedings," according to a copy of the complaint and supplemental information obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

It is the latest in a flurry of federal complaints filed against prominent universities in the wake of Hamas’s terror attack last year on Israel, which sparked a rise in anti-Semitic harassment and violence on campus. Harvard University, the University of California, and the University of Illinois, among others, have all faced federal complaints in recent months for failing to protect Jewish students from a wave of violent anti-Israel protests.

At American University, Jewish and Israeli students "are being subjected to discrimination, harassment, and intimidation on the basis of their Jewish shared ancestry and ethnic identity and Israeli national origin," according to the complaint, which accuses the school of violating federal law by failing to protect Jews on campus.

The school's president, former Obama administration Department of Health and Human Services secretary Sylvia Burwell, has boasted about making the school carbon neutral and touted her work implementing a $500 million program at the school dubbed Change Can't Wait, which is aimed at creating "transformative educational opportunities for students." But under her tenure, Jewish students allege, the most prominent change at the school has been a significant uptick in anti-Semitic incidents.

Students at the Washington, D.C., school "have been threatened, marginalized, shunned, and made to feel unwelcome in their dormitories, classrooms, and social spaces throughout the campus, which has become a hostile environment," according to the complaint.

"Shamefully, AU has repeatedly chosen to turn a blind eye to the anti-Semitism snowballing on its campus," Kenneth L. Marcus, the Brandeis Center’s founder and chairman, said in a statement. "Not only has the university failed in its legal obligation to protect Jewish students from illegal targeting and harassment, it is attempting to bully those brave enough to speak up."

Five students represented by the Brandeis Center are currently under investigation by American University for taking videos of various students vandalizing property and tearing down posters of Israelis taken hostage by Hamas.

"The vandalizers themselves, meanwhile, are not being held accountable," according to the complaint. "Only the Jewish students are being investigated."

Dormitory doors and bathrooms have been vandalized with swastikas, Nazi images, and slogans at American University in recent months, according to the complaint, while Jewish students "have been shunned and marginalized in classrooms by their peers and faculty."

In one instance, a Jewish-Israeli student, Tomer Ben Ezer, was "repeatedly spit on by fellow students," and flyers advertising his piano recital were defaced with anti-Semitic graffiti stating, "Death to the Zionists" and "Hitler was right."

"Being spat on, verbally abused, and having my recital poster defaced with a swastika and death threats goes beyond mere harassment," Ben Ezer told the Free Beacon. "It's a direct attack on my identity and a blatant display of hate that I never expected to encounter in a university setting."

"Each act of aggression, each hostile encounter," he added, "has been a stark reminder of the genuine danger that anti-Semitism poses. It's not just about feeling unwelcome; it's about feeling constantly under threat because of who I am."

In other cases, "Obscenities were yelled at Jewish students, including ‘Zionist killer,’ ‘Zionist pig’ and ‘You have blood on your hands,’ and Jewish students were accused of supporting ‘apartheid’ and being ‘responsible for genocide.’"

Incidents also occurred inside the classroom.

One unnamed university professor, for instance, devoted classroom time to sharing photographs from a pro-Palestinian protest.

"When one of the photos showed a sign of a Star of David in a trash can with the caption, ‘Keep the world clean,’ in a very deliberate and noticeable way the professor stared at a Jewish student in the class to the point that many of the other classmates turned around to also stare at the student," according to a summary of the complaint also provided to the Free Beacon. "The Jewish student left the class in tears."

American University’s leadership has failed to adequately address the numerous instances of anti-Semitism on campus, making them responsible for violations of federal laws meant to protect minority students, according to the complaint.

"By refusing to take action against perpetrators and incidents of anti-Semitism on its campus, the University is signaling to the AU community that there are no consequences for those who harass, threaten, or shun Jewish and Israeli students," it states. "This has only served to embolden hostile students, faculty, and staff at AU to further marginalize Jewish and Israeli students."

American University did not respond to a Free Beacon request for comment.