A group of Jewish Harvard University students filed a lawsuit on Wednesday accusing it of enabling anti-Semitism and selectively enforcing its own policies to avoid protecting Jews from harassment.
“Harvard permits students and faculty to advocate, without consequence, the murder of Jews and the destruction of Israel, the only Jewish country in the world,” the lawsuit by student Alexander Kestenbaum states. “Meanwhile, Harvard requires students to take a training class that warns that they will be disciplined if they engage in sizeism, fatphobia, racism, transphobia, or other disfavored behavior.”
Kestenbaum’s lawsuit, filed jointly with the group Students Against Antisemitism (SAA), accuses Harvard of violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and comes amid mounting criticism for its response to Hamas’ deadly October 7 massacre of Israeli citizens. Kestenbaum, a Jewish student at the Harvard Divinity School, is joined by five other unnamed students who are members of SAA in the lawsuit.
“Harvard, America’s leading university, has become a bastion of rampant anti-Jewish hatred and harassment,” the lawsuit states. “Mobs of pro-Hamas students and faculty have marched by the hundreds through Harvard’s campus, shouting vile antisemitic slogans and calling for death to Jews and Israel.”
Filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, the lawsuit references mobs occupying campus buildings, promoting violence, and assaulting Jews on campus. It also accuses administrators and professors of promulgating anti-Semitism and dismissing students who object.
“What is most striking about all of this is Harvard’s abject failure and refusal to lift a finger to stop and deter this outrageous antisemitic conduct and penalize the students and faculty who perpetrate it,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit argues that anti-Semitism has been a campus problem at Harvard for years, but claims Harvard is now enabling it.
The lawsuit raises the fact that Harvard in the 1920s put “quotas on admissions to ‘diminish the Jews’ and restore Harvard as a ‘Gentile’ college.”
“Harvard has instituted admissions policies that have severely reduced — by as much as sixty percent — the number of Jewish students, an enormous decline that evinces an intentional effort, much like Harvard’s quotas one hundred years ago, to exclude Jews,” it states. In 2013, 25 percent of undergraduate students were Jewish compared to less than 10 percent in 2023, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit also lists a multitude of other incidents of harassment and targeting of Jewish students before October 7, including anti-Israel demonstrations, the Harvard Hillel being vandalized, and anti-Semitic education materials.
One of the unnamed students expressed concern about Harvard’s planned summer program at the Palestinian Birzeit University which is dominated by Hamas, as first reported by The Daily Wire this week.
“Among other things, Birzeit’s buildings and events are named after convicted terrorists; military parades on campus feature students wearing mock explosive vests while waving Hamas flags; in May 2022, Hamas won the majority of Birzeit student government seats; and, two weeks before the October 7 massacre, eight students were arrested with weapons and plans to carry out a terrorist attack,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit expressed concern about several letters signed by students and faculty after Hamas’s October 7 slaughter of Israeli civilians and Harvard’s failure to immediately condemn Hamas and anti-Semitism on campus.
It also lists various protests that took place on campus where Jewish students were harassed and physically assaulted.
“A video that went viral on social media shows a group of students swarming a Jewish Israeli Harvard Business student, holding their keffiyehs open to surround and physically restrain him while screaming,” the lawsuit states.
Elom Tettey-Tamaklo, a Harvard Divinity student and residential proctor, and Ibrahim Bharmal, a Harvard Law Review editor and teaching fellow, are named as the assailants.
“Harvard has not imposed any discipline on Bharmal and has done nothing to sanction Tettey-Tamaklo other than relieving him of his proctor responsibilities,” the lawsuit states.
On October 19, four of the unnamed students were in Harvard Law’s main building having a discussion with a former Trump administration employee who is Jewish, Jason Greenblatt, when hundreds of protesters marched through chanting “from the river to the sea” and accusing Israel of genocide, according to the lawsuit.
“The group stormed Harvard Law’s main building, marched down the length of the building’s primary first-floor hallway, and blocked the hallway outside the study room where the SAA members and Greenblatt were hiding. Fearing a violent attack, students in the study room removed indicia of their Jewishness, such as kippot, or hid under desks,” it states.
The Assistant Director of Student Life at Harvard Law School, Jeffrey Sierra, directed the concerned students to the mental health service center and said “he was not in a position to do more,” the lawsuit states.
On November 16 and 17, during a 24-hour protest, anti-Israel students took over University Hall and were provided burritos and candy by two deans, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit also accused multiple professors of harassing and targeting the plaintiffs including Jon Hanson who promoted a podcast that defended Hamas’s Oct 7 attack. It also mentioned an email by Clio Takas who canceled her class “in solidarity” of an anti-Israel walkout on October 20.
“Harvard’s campus is a safe space for students of all protected minority groups other than Jews,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit points out that while Harvard is a private school that has a $50.7 billion endowment — the largest of any American university — it received financial assistance from the federal government through grants and loans, including $642 million in 2022 and $676 million in 2023.
Harvard is failing to enforce five of its policies that would protect Jewish students, according to the lawsuit, including its Non-Discrimination and Anti-Bullying Policy; the University-Wide Statement on Rights and Responsibilities, the Free Speech Guidelines, Harvard’s Student Organization Policies, and policies in Harvard’s various student school handbooks.
“Subjected to intense anti-Jewish vitriol, including from their own professors and Harvard administrators, Kestenbaum and other Jewish students, including SAA members, have been deprived of the ability and opportunity to fully participate in Harvard’s educational and other programs and have been placed at severe emotional and physical risk,” the lawsuit states.
The suit lists several demands, including terminating or suspending administrators, professors, and students who engaged in anti-Semitic discrimination or abuse, requiring anti-Semitism training, and monetary damages.