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Jewish Students Sue San Francisco State University


Jen Kleinman, Brandeis Blog

June 21, 2017
 

On June 19, 2017, The Lawfare Project and Winston & Strawn LLP filed a lawsuit on behalf of six students and several members of the Bay Area Jewish community against San Francisco State University (“SFSU”). The complaint alleges that the university has fostered a climate of anti-Semitism on campus, violating the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights to free speech and equal protection, as well as their rights under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. President Leslie Wong, the California State University Board of Trustees, and other top administrative officials were named as defendants.

The lawsuit was prompted by alleged complicity of university administrators and police officers in the disruption of an April 2016 event, when San Francisco Hillel invited the Mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, to speak on campus. At the event, 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.”

Protesters yelled and chanted “Intifada,” [Arabic for “uprising,” the term “Intifada” has come to mean a call for violence against innocent Israeli civilians. The First and Second Intifadas in Israel resulted in 170 bombings perpetrated by Palestinian terrorists against Israeli civilians between 1989-2008], “Get the [expletive] off our campus,” and “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” [the destruction of Israel entirely] while university administrators allowed the disruption to continue and instructed campus police to “stand down.”

The plaintiffs also allege that Hillel was unfairly excluded from a campus “Know Your Rights” fair aimed at members of vulnerable populations on Feb. 18, 2017.

The complaint contends that the way administrators handled the April confrontation and the most recent exclusion is consistent with other incidents on SFSU’s campus over the years. According to the complaint, “SFSU and its administrators have knowingly fostered this discrimination… SFSU has not merely fostered and embraced anti-Jewish hostility — it has systematically supported … student groups as they have doggedly organized their efforts to target, threaten, and intimidate Jewish students on campus and deprive them of their civil rights and their ability to feel safe and secure as they pursue their education.” Readers may recall how a SFSU professor of ethnic studies, Rabab Abdulhadi, used university tax-payer funds to finance a student trip to the Palestinian territories, where they were met by Leila Khaled, a Palestinian heralded as the first woman to have hijacked an airplane in an act of terror in 1969; or former student Mohammad Hammad, who infamously posted a picture of himself holding a blade on social media, saying: “I seriously cannot get over how much I love this blade. It is the sharpest thing I own and cuts through everything like butter, and just holding it makes me want to stab an Israeli soldier.”

Further, the complaint 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.”

Lawyers for the students hope the case will set a precedent under Title VI, which protects Jewish students from being targeted for their ethnic or ancestral identity. “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,” Brooke Goldstein, director of The Lawfare Project, said in a written statement. “If the courts fail to apply Title VI in this context, we are creating a massive loophole that will ultimately be exploited at some point to target other marginalized minority communities. If we refuse to enforce anti-discrimination law for Jews, if we say Jews don’t deserve equal protection, it will erode constitutional protections for everyone.”

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Over 50% of Jewish American college students report that they experienced or witnessed anti-Semitism on their campuses during the 2013-2014 academic year. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has announced that campus anti-Semitism “is a serious problem which warrants further attention.” Campus anti-Semitism can include subjecting Jewish students to different treatment, harassment, violence or a hostile environment. In some cases, campus anti-Semitism is related to anti-Israel sentiment. In other cases, it is not. For most purposes, we define anti-Semitism according to the U.S. Department of State definition of anti-Semitism. .
 
 
 
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L. Rachel Lerman, Esq.
L. Rachel Lerman is Vice President of the Louis D. Brandeis Center. She is a litigation partner in Barnes & Thornburg LLP’s Los Angeles office, and co-chairs the national Appeals and Critical Motions Practice Group.
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