A Columbia University student has filed a complaint with the Department of Education, claiming that his university has not done enough to address alleged anti-Semitic discrimination on campus.
The complaint was filed on December 19, 2019. First Amendment Watch acquired a redacted version of the document which accuses the school’s administration of “allow[ing] a severely pervasive and hostile environment to persist where said students (and faculty) are harassed, singled out and discriminated against under the guise of ‘pro-Palestinian’ advocacy.”
The complaint invokes President Donald Trump’s recent executive order which strengthened protections under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for Jewish students who face discrimination on the basis of their race or nationality. Universities found in violation of Title VI could lose access to federal funding.
As examples of discrimination, the complaint says pro-Israel groups have had their fliers vandalized and events interrupted by student groups critical of Israel. The complaint also criticized Israeli Apartheid Week, a series of events held by pro-Palestinian groups on campus dedicated to discussing Israel’s treatment of Palestinian people.
The student’s complaint was filed with the help of The Lawfare Project, a legal group and litigation fund focused on defending “the civil and human rights of the Jewish people and the pro-Israel community.”
“The culture of discrimination against Jewish students at Columbia University is untenable, as it is at so many colleges and universities in the United States,” executive director of The Lawfare Project, Brooke Goldstein, wrote in a statement published on its site.
The Lawfare Project’s Legal Coordinator Lori Tucker said in statement on the site that “in all [her] years of experience as an education attorney, [she] have not come across an environment this hostile for such a prolonged period of time without effective administrative intervention.”
Palestine Legal, a pro-Palestine civil rights group, characterized both the lawsuit and the president’s executive order as an attempt to silence lawful criticism of Israel.
“The Lawfare Project has filed a federal complaint against Columbia University for allowing Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) to hold events, art installations and other speech activity advocating for Palestinian freedom,” the statement said. “Trump’s executive order directs government agencies, including the Department of Education, to consider a distorted definition of antisemitism, condemned by Jewish Studies scholars, because it is inaccurate and designed to censor Palestine rights activists.”