(JTA) – The U.S. Department of Education has opened 12 new investigations into the handling of discrimination at colleges and school districts since Thanksgiving, in the latest expansion of the department’s scrutiny of civil rights issues since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war.
At least four — and almost certainly more — of the new investigations are related to antisemitism, which the department vowed in October to combat on college campuses using all of its available tools.
Rutgers University, Tulane University, Santa Monica College and Union College are all facing allegations that they failed to respond adequately to antisemitism, spokespeople for each of the schools confirmed to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency or other outlets.
A K-12 school district in Georgia said its investigation was not related to antisemitism, while two other schools declined to say what their investigations concerned. Several major institutions including Stanford University and the University of California-Los Angeles did not respond to requests for comment.
The department’s civil rights office has made a point of focusing on antisemitism- and Islamophobia-related complaints that allege violations of Title VI, which prohibits discrimination based on several categories including “shared ancestry.” More than two dozen such cases have been opened since Oct. 7, when Hamas attacked Israel, amid political pressure in the face of rising concerns about campus antisemitism.
Many such Title VI cases involving allegations of discrimination toward Jews are brought by pro-Israel advocacy groups, including the Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law and the Lawfare Project, which often seek to define anti-Zionist speech in university spaces as antisemitic.
The department has previously initiated investigations at schools including Harvard, Columbia and the University of Pennsylvania — whose president Liz Magill recently resigned from her post following blowback from her handling of a congressional hearing on campus antisemitism. Opening an investigation does not mean that the department believes a complaint has merit.
The agency does not disclose specifics about the investigations it initiates, leaving the schools and advocacy groups that may be involved in the cases to fill in the details. But even the schools themselves say they are not always immediately aware of why they are being investigated. An education department spokesperson pointed to a November press release about antisemitism- and Islamophobia-related investigations as “context” for the latest round.
A spokesperson for Rutgers University in New Jersey, which had an investigation opened into it on Monday, told JTA it was over “alleged incidents of harassment in October and November 2023 of students on the basis of their national origin (shared Jewish ancestry and/or Israel).” The spokesperson said the school was given no further details.
Rutgers this week announced it was suspending its campus chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine following allegations of disruptive protests. The school also briefly suspended its law school’s Student Bar Association last month after it tried to impeach a Jewish member over a message-board battle about Israel and Hamas.
A spokesperson for Tulane University in New Orleans, which had an investigation opened Dec. 5, also told JTA that its inquiry was tied to antisemitism concerns — specifically over an Oct. 26 pro-Palestinian rally held near the university at which four individuals not affiliated with Tulane were arrested and several people, including Jewish students, were injured.
“Antisemitism and other forms of hate have no place at Tulane University,” spokesperson Michael Strecker said in a statement. “The incident at the center of this investigation took place at a rally organized by a group that is not recognized by Tulane. The rally was deliberately staged on public property contiguous to our campus but over which we have no control.”
Strecker added that the university increased security on campus and increased its own antisemitism training, among other measures, following the incident, and that it would “fully comply” with the investigation. A lawyer for one of the Jewish students assaulted at the rally told Tulane’s student newspaper they “had no idea” about the investigation.
A trustee for Santa Monica College told a local newspaper that its own investigation, opened Dec. 4, was also related to antisemitism, as a student club council had briefly denied recognition to a local chapter of Students Supporting Israel in late October. University administrators reversed the decision the next day, saying there was “no lawful basis” to deny the club; in a statement, the college told the Santa Monica Daily Press, “This prompt action demonstrates the college’s commitment to a discrimination-free environment for all students.”
And a statement from Union College in Schenectady, New York, reveals that its own investigation opened Dec. 5 also involves allegations of “a claim of discrimination toward Jewish students.”
“Specifically, the unnamed complainant alleges that Union College failed to respond appropriately to incidents of harassment in October and November 2023,” the statement reads. It goes on to say that the school “stands against hate in all forms, including antisemitism,” and “has seen no violence, or threats of violence, on campus since the Oct. 7 terror attacks by Hamas on Israel.”
Representatives at two other universities, the University of Washington-Seattle and the University of California-San Diego, told JTA they would cooperate with their investigations but did not say whether the inquiries involved antisemitism. Cobb County School District in Georgia told a local reporter that the investigation opened into it on Dec. 5 was not related to antisemitism.
Requests for comment to the other colleges that have also had recent discrimination investigations opened were not returned. The other schools are UCLA; Stanford; Whitman College; Montana State University; and the University of Cincinnati.
Recent news reports from some of these colleges indicate that they, too, have been the sites of conflict involving Jewish concerns. A conservative radio station has reported that staff at a University of Washington diversity and inclusion office emailed students Oct. 25 to call Israel “oppressors and colonizers, while Palestine stands as the oppressed and colonized.” The letter also accused Israel of “genocide” and said, “We firmly support the cause of Palestinians and their fight for freedom from the unlawful and oppressive settler colonial apartheid state.” The letter was reportedly unsanctioned by the school and staffers who sent it were disciplined.
A video shared on social media from UCSD in November claimed that the university had evacuated a building in which Jewish students were discussing antisemitic threats against them; the university denied the allegations. The video showed pro-Palestinian protesters gathering outside an area where Jewish students were congregating.
At UCLA, administrators last month condemned antisemitic language spoken by students at a pro-Palestinian protest at which students bashed a piñata with an image of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu while yelling through a microphone, “Beat that f–king Jew.”
And at the University of Cincinnati, the campus chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine was admonished shortly before Halloween for a social media post that promoted a “Spooky Zionist” meeting theme, according to local reports.
Harvard Alumni File Lawsuit Claiming Campus Antisemitism ‘Devalues’ Their Diplomas
A group of ten Harvard University alumni filed a lawsuit against the institution on Wednesday, accusing it of “devaluing” their degrees through permitting and fostering an environment of antisemitism, support for terrorism, and anti-Israel sentiment.
Filed in a Massachusetts federal court, the alumni claims that Harvard has breached an implicit contract with its graduates, promising to maintain the institution’s prestige, which they allege has been compromised due to a toxic campus environment. This, they argue, has led potential employers and prestigious law firms to distance themselves from Harvard alumni.
“Harvard has directly caused the value and prestige of plaintiffs’ Harvard degrees to be diminished and made a mockery out of Harvard graduates in the employment world and beyond,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit argues that the university’s administration has failed to combat campus anti-semitism, and has consistently overlooked assaults on Jewish students and calls by students and faculty for the annihilation of Israel. It highlighted, among other things, an open letter signed by more than thirty student organizations blaming Israel for the October 7 Hamas-led attack, and campus protests which included chants like “Long live the intifada!” and “There is only one solution: intifada revolution!” and “From the river to the sea, Palestine is Arab!”
The suit also points to then-Harvard president Claudine Gay’s testimony before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, where she stated that calls for genocide against Jews would only violate bullying and harassment policies “depending on the context,” as indicative of the school’s tolerance of antisemitism.
The lawsuit is part of a growing dissatisfaction among graduates over what they perceive as rampant antisemitism on U.S. campuses, according to attorney Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, president of legal aid group, Shurat HaDin, who is representing the alumni alongside New York-based lawyer, Robert Tolchin.
Darshan-Leitner criticized the colleges for becoming “hate centers” under the guise of academic freedom.
The lawsuit, Darshan-Leitner said, reveals the “growing outrage and contempt that graduates all across the US are feeling over the wild antisemitism and hate speech being encouraged and explained away on the American campuses.”
“This dangerous weaponization of higher education by radical faculty and students as well as the impotent administration response, all justified under the guise of academic freedom, has turned the colleges into hate centers which has greatly devalued their reputation and diplomas,” she said, adding that the suit could prompt similar actions from graduates of other institutions.
Tolchin accused the university of succumbing to “the flavor of the month, the lowest level of discourse.”
“Harvard’s seal proclaims “Light and Truth” in Latin and Hebrew–yes, Hebrew, the language spoken by the indigenous Israelites. Yet light and truth have been hard to find at Harvard. The darkness of antisemitism and the dishonesty, hate, and discrimination have cast a pall over Harvard so embarrassing that people do not wish to be associated with Harvard,” Tolchin said.
Harvard has been accused of facilitating an educational environment that is unwelcoming to Israelis and Jews for years, with the lawsuit citing annual events such as “Israel Apartheid Week” and incidents targeting Jewish students and symbols on campus.
Antisemitism expert Dara Horn, a Harvard alumnus who was asked to join Gay’s anti-Semitism advisory committee, authored a damning essay published this week in The Atlantic in which she detailed the Jew hatred on campus predating October 7.
She noted that staff members “who grade Jewish students used university-issued class lists to share information about events organized by pro-Palestine groups;” In one instance, a professor continued teaching after rejecting the findings of an investigation by Harvard after he was found discriminating against several Israeli students. Last spring, a student was asked to leave because her identity as an Israeli was making her classmates “uncomfortable.”
She also pointed to courses themselves “premised on anti-Semitic lies”, pointing to one called “The Settler Colonial Determinants of Health”, and noted that lecturers invited to speak at the campus included some who peddled in blood libels that Israelis harvest Palestinians’ organs or that the IDF uses Palestinian children for weapons testing.
“The mountain of proof at Harvard revealed a reality in which Jewish students’ access to their own university (classes, teachers, libraries, dining halls, public spaces, shared student experiences) was directly compromised,” Horn writes. The alumni’s legal action comes alongside another lawsuit filed by six current Harvard students on January 10, claiming that the university has not done enough to combat antisemitism on campus which had become a “bastion of rampant anti-Jewish hatred and harassment.” It also comes a day after a professor at the university, Walter Johnson, resigned from two anti-Zionist campus groups after they posted antisemitic cartoons.
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Israel Not Budging After Eurovision Disapproval of Song Commemorating October 7
Israeli Culture Minister Miki Zohar sent the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) a letter on Thursday urging them to approve Israel’s submission to the Eurovision song competition, after the EBU called it “too political.”
“As you know, the State of Israel is experiencing one of the most difficult and complex periods since its establishment. We lost our loved ones, and there are women, men and children who are still held captive by a terrorist organization,” Zohar said.
Israeli media reported that the broadcasting union would not approve the song, called “October Rain,” after a number of countries even issued threats to boycott the event if Israel participates. The EBU issued a statement saying “We are currently in the process of carefully examining the lyrics of the song – a process that is confidential between the EBU and the Public Broadcasting Corporation until a final decision is made. To all broadcasters, they have until March 11th to officially submit their songs. If a song does not meet the criteria for any reason, the corporation will be given the opportunity to submit a new song or new lyrics, according to the contest rules.”
“The song that Israel sent to the Eurovision Song Contest was chosen by a professional committee made up of well-known names in the local music and entertainment industry,” Zohar added. “It is a moving song, discussing renewal and revival from a very fragile reality of loss and destruction, and describes the current public mood in Israel these days. We see now most clearly because our lives – as one, united society – manage to overcome even the greatest suffering. This is not a political song.”
Despite the news that the song by Israeli singer Eden Golan would not be approved, The CEO of KAN, Israel’s national broadcasting service, and the body that approves the song, Golan Yokhpaz, said “We will not change the words or the song, even at the cost of Israel not participating in Eurovision this year.” Adding “The Israel Broadcasting Corporation (KAN) is in dialogue with the EBU regarding the song that will represent Israel at Eurovision.”
Zohar said later in a television interview “The songwriters, KAN, and the singer will have to make the decisions at the end of the day… I do think that Israel should participate in Eurovision because it is important for us at this time to be represented there, and to express ourselves throughout Europe.”
Speaking to the EBU, he said, “We trust that you will continue in your important task of keeping the competition free from any attempt at political manipulation.”
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UN Representative to the Palestinians Claims Israelis Are ‘Colonialists’ with ‘Fake Identities’
The United Nations’ Special Rapporteur to the Occupied Palestinian Territories referred to Israelis as “colonialists” who have “fake identities” while quoting another Twitter/X account on Wednesday, raising questions about the impartiality of the international body.
She highlighted the following quote from Mizrahi: “free Palestine scares them [Westerners] bcs it is the ghost of their own sins, rediscovered as a living, breathing human. The current political structures of colonial projects cannot afford it, so they try to uproot it. Bcs it is a fight between all colonialists and their fake identities.”
” free Palestine scares them bcs it is the ghost of their own sins, rediscovered as a living, breathing human. The current political structures of colonial projects cannot afford it, so they try to uproot it. Bcs it is a fight between all colonialists and their fake identities..” https://t.co/N1wkOPgKJs
— Francesca Albanese, UN Special Rapporteur oPt (@FranceskAlbs) February 21, 2024
The original post claimed that “All colonial powers work together to guarantee the supremacy of made-up identities over genuine, native ones. Because if this model breaks anywhere, it will collapse everywhere.”
Mizrahi argued that “A Palestinian state would be a major, major moral blow to white, Western colonialism.”
The tweet was met with immediate condemnation.
David Friedman, who served as the US Ambassador to Israel from 2017 to 2021 under former President Donald Trump wrote that her tweet was “Exhibit A why the UN is a failure and why we no longer belong in that bastion of hypocrisy and corruption.”
An account documenting Hamas’ October 7 atrocities asked, “If Israel is indeed a ‘colonialist project’ Where should all the Israelis go if this project should be dismantled?”
The perception of UN bias against Israel has also been boosted by the fact that, in 2023, Israel was condemned twice as often as all other countries combined.
It is not the first time Albanese has made comments that raise eyebrows. Earlier this month, in response to French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron calling the October 7 attack “largest anti-Semitic massacre of the 21st century,” she said “No, Mr. Macron. The victims of October 7 were not killed because of their Judaism, but in response to Israel’s oppression.”
Following backlash, she wrote that she opposes “all racism, including anti-Semitism, a global threat. But explaining these crimes as anti-Semitism obscures their true cause.”
Hamas’ founding charter, in a section about the “universality” of its cause, reads: “The Day of Judgement will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Muslims, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.”
Albanese has also argued that Israel should make peace with Hamas, saying that “It needs to make peace with Hamas in order to not be threatened by Hamas.”
When asked about what people do not understand about Hamas, she added, “If someone violates your right to self-determination, you are entitled to embrace resistance.”
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