The University of Pennsylvania was sued by a pair of students who claim the campus was a hotbed of antisemitism even before Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7.
Penn became the third major US college, after New York University and the University of California at Berkeley, to face lawsuits in the last month claiming the schools put Jewish students at risk amid campus protests over the Israel-Hamas war.
Undergraduates Eyal Yakoby and Jordan Davis claim Penn committed “egregious” violations of federal civil rights law by selectively enforcing its rules of conduct to “avoid protecting Jewish students from hatred and harassment.” It also hired “rabidly antisemitic professors” and ignored students’ pleas for protection, according to the complaint filed Tuesday in Philadelphia federal court.
Campus antisemitism was “turbocharged” when Hamas, which the US and European Union call a terrorist group, killed more than 1,200 Israelis and abducted about 240, according to the complaint. About 15,900 people have died in Gaza amid airstrikes and a ground assault by Israeli forces in response, according to Gazan officials.
“Emboldened by years of Penn’s tolerance and enabling of antisemitism, and deliberate indifference to Jewish students’ complaints, Penn students and faculty openly support and extol Hamas’s atrocities,” according to the complaint.
Just two days ago, an “antisemitic student mob rampaged across Penn’s campus,” chanting for the destruction of Israel and scrawling the words “intifada,” “blood thirsty” and “shame” on the walls of Penn buildings, according to the complaint.
The lawsuit was filed shortly after Penn President Liz Magill testified on Capitol Hill at a congressional hearing focused on antisemitism at her school, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The committee started the hearing by showing a video clip of protests at the three schools.
Magill said Penn must ensure that the school’s academic freedom and free exchange of ideas endure. She vowed to uphold free speech while protecting students.
“We recognize the right of peaceful protest and assembly, and we give broad protection to free expression — even expression that is offensive,” Magill said in remarks prepared for the House Education and Workforce Committee. “At the same time, we have zero tolerance for violence or speech intended to incite it.”
A Penn spokesman said the university hasn’t reviewed the lawsuit yet and doesn’t comment on pending litigation.
Harvard President Claudine Gay and MIT President Sally Kornbluth also testified Tuesday, saying they won’t tolerate antisemitism. All three schools have appointed antisemitism task forces. The US Education Department is investigating possible discrimination based on shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics at universities including Penn, Harvard, Cornell, Columbia, and Cooper Union.
Penn, an Ivy League school in Philadelphia, has been the site of controversy since hosting the Palestine Writes Literature Festival in September. Alumnus Marc Rowan, Apollo Global Management Inc.’s chief executive officer, has called on donors to withhold support until Magill and Scott Bok, chair of the board of trustees, resign.
“The underlying culture that permitted this to happen is so strong,” he said on Bloomberg Television.
The students sued under Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which bars discrimination based on race, color or national origin. They also sued for breach of contract based on various Penn policies, including the student code of conduct and the faculty handbook.
The complaint, drafted by Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP, asks a judge to order Penn to terminate faculty and administrators “responsible for the antisemitic abuse permeating the school” and suspend or expel students who “engage in such conduct.”
Photograph: The University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Penn. Photo credit: Hannah Beier/Bloomberg
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