Harvard Slapped With Lawsuit Alleging ‘Cruel Anti-Semitic Bullying, Harassment, and Discrimination’ on Campus

Complaint alleges Harvard’s top administrators knowingly turned a blind eye to anti-Semitic incidents

Harvard University campus (Scott Eisen/Getty Images)
May 22, 2024

Harvard University on Tuesday was sued in federal court by a leading civil rights organization for allowing "cruel anti-Semitic bullying, harassment, and discrimination" to take place on its campus for years without any action by the Ivy League’s leaders, according to a copy of the lawsuit obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

The Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, which is leading the charge to hold a range of American universities accountable for an explosion of anti-Semitism on campus, filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts. The complaint outlines a litany of anti-Semitic incidents on campus—including calls for violence against Jews by professors and student protesters—and alleges that Harvard’s top administrators knowingly turned a blind eye to these incidents. The civil rights group is handling the case on behalf of five Jewish and Israeli students who claim to have been subjected to anti-Semitic harassment and bullying.

"[W]hen Harvard is presented with incontrovertible evidence of anti-Semitic conduct, it ignores and tolerates it," the lawsuit states. "Harvard’s permissive posture towards anti-Semitism is the opposite of its aggressive enforcement of the same anti-bullying and anti-discrimination policies to protect other minorities."

The lawsuit is the latest in a string of damning allegations suggesting that Harvard’s leadership has systematically failed to address a host of anti-Semitic incidents that have erupted on campus in the wake of Hamas’s Oct. 7 terror attack on Israel. Six students also sued Harvard in January, alleging the school has become a bastion of anti-Semitism. Harvard is being investigated by Congress for similar reasons, with a House investigation last week determining that Harvard’s top leaders, including interim president Alan Garber, ignored recommendations from the school’s in-house anti-Semitism task force and failed to investigate instances of anti-Semitic harassment that were raised by students, teachers, and parents. The situation, students and civil rights groups say, has left Harvard’s grounds a dangerous place for Jews.

"Harvard has been deliberately indifferent to the pervasive antisemitism on campus, creating an unbearable educational environment," the lawsuit alleges. "Jewish and Israeli students feel isolated, unwelcome, and unable to enjoy the educational rights and benefits to which they are legally entitled."

The Ivy League school is charged with violating Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which provides protection to minorities, as well as its own internal policies on discrimination. As the recipient of federal funds—amounting to $676 million in 2023 alone—Harvard is required by law to protect its Jewish population from harm. The Education Department is also investigating the school over possible Title VI violations.

Anti-Semitism at Harvard has long been a problem, though the situation has become substantially worse since anti-Israel protesters have formed encampments on the school’s campus. A 2022 report from a watchdog group found that Harvard "had the highest rate of threats based on Jewish identity of the 109 campuses it surveyed."

But in the wake of Hamas’s terror attack last year, Harvard has "allowed antisemitism and anti-Israeli sentiment to fester without adequate response," according to the lawsuit. "Harvard students and faculty have called for violence against Jews and for the destruction of Israel, and celebrated Hamas’s terrorism."

Student message boards have become "filled with vile antisemitic slurs and threats—including calls for Jews to ‘cook’ and the Harvard Hillel to ‘burn in hell.’"

Anti-Israel student protesters—many of whom were recently granted immunity by the school after initially facing disciplinary action—"have occupied and vandalized buildings, interrupted classes and exams, and made the campus deeply uncomfortable for their Jewish and Israeli classmates," according to the lawsuit.

"Through its public actions and failures to act," the suit alleges, "Harvard has made its position clear: Jews are fair game. Students and faculty can harass and discriminate against Jews, and they can do so openly and with impunity. Harvard will go out of its way to protect antisemitic protestors and conspiracy-theorists."

In one of many incidents described in the lawsuit, an Israeli Jew and student at the Harvard Business School was assaulted in mid-October while trying to film an anti-Israel demonstration on campus.

"A mob surrounded him, engulfed him with keffiyehs, and chanted ‘Shame! Shame! Shame!’ in his face," according to the complaint. "The assailants grabbed him, and one hit him in the neck with his forearm."

To date, Harvard "has not taken any action" to address the incident or hold the perpetrators accountable, the lawsuit says. The allegations follow a recently published investigation by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, which found that Harvard repeatedly failed to investigate anti-Semitic incidents or initiate disciplinary proceedings against those responsible for them.

The Brandeis Center says it has informed Harvard leaders about these incidents numerous times, but that the school "has brushed them aside." This includes a series of letters, complaints, and other forms of notification to the school.

In another unreported incident, three Harvard Kennedy School students were allegedly "discriminated against and tormented" by a professor after they proposed a project in Spring 2023 about Jewish and Israeli identity.

After floating the project, "classmates objected, complaining that the idea of a ‘Jewish democracy’ was ‘offensive,’" the lawsuit reveals. "The professor and teaching fellows agreed. The professor compared the existence of a ‘Jewish state’ to ‘white supremacy,’ and threatened [Harvard Kennedy School] members with ‘consequences.’"

Nearly a year later, "Harvard has not announced the incident or publicly apologized for discriminating against [Kennedy School] members," according to the lawsuit. The school also "has not fired or suspended the professor or disciplined the teaching fellows, and it has not even provided training to prevent antisemitism or anti-Israel bias in the future."

Kenneth Marcus, the Brandeis Center’s founder and chairman, said that Harvard’s leaders are responsible for allowing the campus "to become a breeding ground for hateful anti-Jewish and radical anti-Israel views."

"When are university leaders going to learn that in order to prevent your school from becoming a cesspool of anti-Semitism action is required?" Marcus, a former U.S. assistant secretary of education for civil rights, said in a statement. "Schools must hold students and faculty accountable. They must follow through with public consequences when Jews are harassed and discriminated against like they would for any other minority group, as required by law."