San Francisco State University - Cesar Chavez Student Center.
(photo credit: WEBBI1987 BY CC BY-SA 3.0 / WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
An NGO, a group of San Francisco State University students and members of the local Jewish community on Monday filed a lawsuit in a US federal court against the school for antisemitism.
The case alleges that the university “has a long and extensive history of cultivating antisemitism and overt discrimination against Jewish students,” which has led to students to fear wearing “Stars of David or yarmulkes on campus.”
According to the suit, the university “and its administrators have knowingly fostered this discrimination... which has been marked by violent threats to the safety of Jewish students on campus.”
The plaintiffs are represented by the NGO The Lawfare Project and the global law firm Winston & Strawn LLP.
Defendants in the case include the Board of Trustees of the California State University System, SFSU president Leslie Wong and several other university officials and employees.
At its heart, the case asserts that university violated students’ free speech, freedom to assemble and right to have law enforcement protect these rights. This was part of systematic discrimination or deliberate indifference to a hostile environment against Jews.
US media reports indicated that the university’s counsel said he was not aware of the lawsuit, adding that the case would not stop what he called the university’s productive dialogue with the Jewish community and other communities about relevant issues. The lawsuit was triggered following the alleged complicity of senior university administrators and police officers in the disruption of an April 2016 speech by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.
During that event, organized by the university’s Hillel group, Jewish students and audience members were allegedly “subjected to genocidal and offensive chants and expletives by a raging mob that used bullhorns to intimidate and drown out the mayor’s speech and physically threaten and intimidate members of the mostly Jewish audience.”
The lawsuit asserts that “campus police – including the chief – stood by, on order from senior university administrators who instructed the police to ‘stand down’ despite direct and implicit threats and violations of university codes governing campus conduct.”
According to the complaint, the university “continues to affirm its preference for those targeting the Jewish community...
by claiming to handle such incidents successfully by removing Jewish students from their lawful assembly without allowing them the opportunity to exercise their free speech rights.”
Further, the case notes that “no actions were ever taken by SFSU against the disruptive students, no disciplinary charges were ever filed, and no sanctions were ever imposed against the groups or students responsible for committing these acknowledged violations.”
Brooke Goldstein, director of the Lawfare Project said: “Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the underpinning of the modern American ethos of equal protection and anti-discrimination. This case isn’t about Jews, it’s about equal protection under the law. If the courts fail to apply Title VI in this context, we are creating a massive loophole that will ultimately be exploited to target other marginalized minority communities.”
The Lawfare Project’s point woman on the case, Amanda Berman, said: “It is time for profound institutional change at SFSU, and since the faculty and administration are entirely unwilling to pursue such a goal, Jewish victims... have been left with no choice but to ask a federal court to compel them.”
The case mentions a string of other allegedly antisemitic incidents dating back to 1994, including statements in 2016 and 2017 by Wong that the plaintiffs argued left his commitment to the safety of Jewish students open to question.
In addition, the lawsuit asserts that the university “has repeatedly denied student groups, including Hillel and the Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi, equal access to campus events that welcome other non-Jewish student organizations at the university.”
The lawsuit does note that the university president has publicized efforts to address antisemitism, but argues that these efforts have been meaningless and are no more than a fig leaf for ignoring the problem.