Israel-Hamas War Prompts College Student Lawsuits
Both Jewish and pro-Palestinian groups claim they are being targeted with hate crimes or that their schools are violating their right to free speech.
Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel and the resulting bloodshed that has been experienced on both sides has led both Jewish and pro-Palestinian students to claim that the institutions of higher education they attend aren’t protecting them from hate crimes or are violating their First Amendment rights.
On Tuesday, the Brandeis Center and Jewish Americans for Fairness in Education filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against the University of California system and UC Berkeley, claiming the university has not appropriately responded to a “longstanding, unchecked spread of anti-Semitism” at the institution.
The lawsuit alleges that demonstrations and incidents on campus since the start of the Israel-Hamas war are examples of the school’s discrimination, reports Politico.
Specifically, Jewish groups say policies enacted by at least 23 Berkeley Law student groups that bar students and speakers who identify as Zionists or refuse to disavow Israel violate the 14th Amendment, First Amendment, Title VI, and other laws.
University officials, however, say the demonstrations on campus are protected by the First Amendment but are encouraging Jewish students to report antisemitic incidents if or when they happen.
The groups suing UC Berkeley allege Jewish people on campus have received hate emails “calling for their gassing and murder,” reports Axios. A student wearing an Israeli flag was also allegedly attacked by two protestors. However, Berkeley says it has not received reports of these alleged threats or attacks.
The lawsuit against UC Berkeley follows another lawsuit by Jewish students against New York University earlier this month alleging NYU violated their civil rights in its handling of claims of discrimination and harassment against Jewish students. Three students allege the school allowed the chanting of phrases like “gas the Jews” and “Hitler was right,” reports The Jewish Chronicle.
NYU responded to the lawsuit with this statement: “NYU looks forward to setting the record straight, to challenging this lawsuit’s one-sided narrative, to making clear the many efforts NYU has made to combat antisemitism and provide a safe environment for Jewish students and non-Jewish students, and to prevailing in court.”
Meanwhile, in Florida, the University of Florida’s Students for Justice in Palestine is suing the state university system for Governor Ron DeSantis’ call to deactivate two of its chapters, reports the Tallahassee Democrat. Chancellor Ray Rodrigues, head of the State University System, accused the group of providing “material support” to Hamas.
The group claims its deactivation by the state of Florida violates its First Amendment rights to free speech and association. The group is asking a federal judge to block the deactivation from going into effect.
First Amendment activists and experts claim DeSantis’ deactivation of the group unconstitutional.
At Columbia University, men’s soccer team member Yusuf Hafez filed a lawsuit on Monday against conservative non-profit media group Accuracy in Media for showing Hafez’ name and face under the group’s banner that said “Columbia’s Leading Antisemites” on the group’s “doxxing truck” that drove around campus in October, reports the Columbia Spectator.
Hafez says the group falsely claimed he was president of a student organization that signed a pro-Palestinian letter calling for Columbia to cut ties with “apartheid Israel.” Hafez says he hasn’t been in leadership role with the group since last spring, reports CNN.
The recent spike in hate crimes against both Muslims and Jews has prompted the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Civil Rights to investigate institutions of higher education and one K-12 school district over possible antisemitic, anti-Muslim, or anti-Arab harassment.
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