Time's Up for Columbia: Disgraced Democratic Attorney Roberta Kaplan Reps Ivy League School in Anti-Semitism Suit After Stepping Down From Women's Rights Org

Roberta Kaplan (Phillip Faraone/Getty Images for Fortune)
March 6, 2024

The Democratic superlawyer who resigned in disgrace from the #MeToo organization Time's Up after helping former New York governor Andrew Cuomo (D.) discredit his accusers is now defending Columbia University against a lawsuit alleging that it fosters a pervasive culture of anti-Semitism.

Roberta Kaplan filed notice last month to represent Columbia and its sister college, Barnard, against lawsuits that accuse school leaders of enabling an "antisemitic hostile educational environment" in the wake of Hamas's terrorist attack on Israel.

Students Against Antisemitism and a group of five Columbia students allege that school leaders have turned a blind eye as anti-Semitic activists have physically assaulted, "spat at," and threatened Jewish and Israeli students. Columbia student Mackenzie Forrest sued the school and its president, alleging she was forced out of the Columbia School of Social Work "simply because she is Jewish."

The lawsuit pits Kaplan, a longtime Democratic Party operative who has portrayed herself as a civil rights activist, against Jewish students on campus who say their civil rights have been violated.

Kaplan resigned from Time's Up in August 2021 after the New York attorney general's office revealed that she advised Cuomo on an op-ed that smeared a former employee, Lindsey Boylan, who accused Cuomo of sexual harassment. Time's Up staff members accused Kaplan and her cofounder, longtime Democratic operative Tina Tchen, of "failing" sexual abuse survivors.

Kaplan also represented Cuomo aide Melissa DeRosa during the New York attorney general's probe into Cuomo's behavior. Investigators identified DeRosa as a mastermind behind the effort to smear Cuomo's accusers.

Democrats consider Kaplan a civil rights icon for her work on the Supreme Court case to legalize gay marriage. She also represented writer E. Jean Carroll in an $83 million defamation lawsuit against former president Donald Trump.

Kaplan, who touts a "social action" award from the National Council of Jewish Women, has not issued a formal response to Jewish students suing Columbia. In a Feb. 23 filing, she referred to the "allegedly antisemitic conduct" at Columbia and requested that both lawsuits be transferred to the docket of District Court judge Paul Oetken. Two attorneys at Kaplan's firm have clerked for Oetken, an Obama appointee.

The lawsuits lay out several examples of anti-Israel groups and faculty members praising Hamas's attack on the Jewish state.

According to the lawsuit filed by Students Against Antisemitism, Columbia law professor Katherine Franke has called on the school to ban Israeli students and bragged in November 2023 that she helped shut down a New York City tunnel to protest "genocide in Gaza." After Hamas invaded Israel on Oct. 7, Franke penned an open letter that called the terrorist attack "a military response by a people who had endured crushing and unrelenting state violence from an occupying power over many years," the Washington Free Beacon reported.

The lawsuit cites the pro-Hamas and anti-Semitic rhetoric of Joseph Massad, a professor of Arab politics. Massad hailed the Hamas attacks as "awesome" and touted Hamas's use of motorized paragliders as a feat of "innovative Palestinian resistance." He allegedly asked a Columbia student who served in the Israel Defense Forces "how many Palestinians that student had killed."

Columbia's inaction toward Massad has stoked blowback at the school. Billionaire investor Leon Cooperman vowed last year to cut off donations to the school over its failure to fire Massad.

Columbia and Kaplan's law firm did not respond to requests for comment.