Lawsuit: Students, Community Members Claim Public University ‘Cultivated Anti-Semitism’ on Campus

'I felt afraid as a Jewish student'

• June 20, 2017 10:50 am


Pro-Israel students, alumni, and local residents filed a lawsuit Monday against San Francisco State University for fostering anti-Semitism on campus, alleging that the public college allowed an environment to form that is hostile to Jewish students.

Jacob Mandel, who just graduated from San Francisco State, is part of the suit, which claims that he and others are systematically denied permission to promote pro-Israel views at the university and that Jewish students feel threatened on campus, the Washington Post reports.

The suit also claims that the university has taken no action against anti-Semitic threats.

"I didn't have the right to speak on my own campus; I felt afraid as a Jewish student," Mandel told the Post. "The administration was actively working against me … I felt really powerless."

Some 2,000 of San Francisco State's 26,000 undergraduates are Jewish, according to Hillel International.

Lawyers for three leaders of the campus Jewish group Hillel and three non-students said, "SFSU has fostered and sanctioned anti-Semitism from the highest levels and affirmed the actions of hostile, aggressive, and disruptive students to regularly violate the rights of Jewish students."

University counsel Dan Ojeda issued a brief statement after the suit was filed in the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of California.

"We have been working closely with the Jewish community, among other interest groups, to address concerns and improve the campus environment for all students," he said, adding that the university will review the complaint.

The lawsuit was filed a year after the school's Hillel invited Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat to speak in April 2016. A mob prevented him from speaking, however. Students with bullhorns chanted "Long live the Intifada" and "Get the f**K off our campus," while the college ordered police to "stand down" and not stop the protesters.

That incident followed past demonstrations of anti-Semitism, according to the suit, such as one episode in 1994, when a 10-foot mural with "yellow Stars of David intertwined with dollar signs, skulls and crossbones, and the words ‘African Blood'" appeared on the student union building.

Many people on campus tried to prevent the mural from being removed, the suit says.

"The mural had to be sandblasted, with 60 police officers in riot gear positioned to protect the sandblasters from an angry mob who wanted the mural to be left untouched."

The lawsuit alleges that pro-Palestinian students endorsed violence and threatened Jewish students, but college officials took no action. It also claims that "Jewish student groups are consistently denied permission to host events or tables promoting their groups on campus, and that when they do host events, they are ‘systematically shut down by raucous mobs,'" the Post reported.

The plaintiffs are represented by The Lawfare Project, a non-governmental organization, and the global law firm Winston & Strawn LLP.

The suit alleges that "SFSU has a long and extensive history of cultivating anti-Semitism and overt discrimination against Jewish students," leading students being afraid to wear "Stars of David or yarmulkes on campus."

While the suit notes that the university's president promised to "lead a university-wide effort to seek solutions to the anti-Semitism on this campus" in May, school leaders have not followed through on similar past statements.

The university held a "Know Your Rights Fair" after President Donald Trump's inauguration to support "vulnerable populations who may be feeling targeted in the new political climate in the country since the presidential election." But Hillel was barred from the fair, despite media reports about rising anti-Semitism.

According to the suit, university leaders promoted free speech in 2013 when a pro-Palestinian student group wrote two messages around campus: "My heroes have always killed colonizers" and "Resistance is not terrorism," with a portrait of a woman who hijacked planes holding a machine gun. The suit also claims that, several years ago, an Israeli student reported violent online threats made against her by a student in one of her classes, but the school did not take action.

The lawsuit seeks to prevent the university from violating the free speech rights of Jewish students and others, as well as damages for discrimination and emotional distress.

"Without this lawsuit, Jewish students will remain marginalized on San Francisco State's campus," Mandel said. "Without it, nothing will be done."