Harvard alumni sue school over unchecked antisemitism

The plaintiffs are looking for monetary compensation for the devaluing of their diplomas due to unchecked antisemitism.

By Amelie Botbol, JNS

Ten Harvard alumni from across the United States filed a lawsuit against the university on Thursday, alleging that unrestrained antisemitism on the Harvard campus, the administration’s failure to adequately denounce Hamas terrorism, and the university’s overall anti-Israel climate have contributed to gravely devaluing their diplomas.

The civil action, filed in Massachusetts federal court, contends that the Harvard administration has repeatedly ignored attacks on Jewish students and calls by students and faculty for genocide against the Jewish state, despite numerous complaints.

The plaintiffs accuse the university of allowing a toxic and hateful atmosphere on campus to proliferate, which has badly damaged their alma mater’s reputation and prestige. As a result, the plaintiffs claim that the value of their diplomas, which they had heavily invested in, has greatly decreased in the eyes of potential employers and companies.

The plaintiffs are therefore seeking an injunction against the university and undisclosed financial compensation.

The graduates are represented by attorneys Robert J. Tolchin of New York and Nitsana Darshan-Leitner of Tel Aviv.

“We seek an injunction that would press Harvard to actively ban any form of antisemitic conduct, anti-Israel bashing, calls for genocide against the Jews and praise on campus for Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre,” Darshan-Leitner told JNS.

In recent months, Harvard and other prominent universities have come under harsh criticism and scrutiny amid escalating Jew-hatred and an extremist campus climate that has led Jewish students to feel threatened.

In January, six Jewish students sued Harvard, alleging a hostile, antisemitic environment in violation of civil-rights law. The six, represented by New York-based Kasowitz Benson Torres, said in their 77-page suit that the school discriminates against Jewish students in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

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“Harvard’s antisemitism cancer—as a past Harvard president termed it—manifests itself in a double standard invidious to Jews,” per that suit. “Harvard selectively enforces its policies to avoid protecting Jewish students from harassment, hires professors who support anti-Jewish violence and spread antisemitic propaganda and ignores Jewish students’ pleas for protection.”

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act protects against discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin in any federal-funded program. Harvard received $676 million—11% of its total revenue—from the federal government in 2023, according to its annual financial report.

Darshan-Leitner, who is president of the Shurat HaDin civil rights center, was first approached by plaintiffs Dr. Alan Bauer and attorney Tammy Purlow, who came up with the idea to file a lawsuit.

“The plaintiffs experienced incidents that made them feel totally uncomfortable at Harvard, which they will speak about in detail before the court,” Darshan-Leitner explained.

“Anybody at Harvard or other educational institutions that have failed to ban antisemitic behaviors is welcome to join our lawsuit,” she added.

Darshan-Leitner expects Harvard to file a motion to dismiss the case but believes the suit will go to discovery and deposition and then ultimately to trial.

In the lawsuit, the 10 plaintiffs contend that: “The College impliedly committed and agreed to uphold a certain standard of higher education and reputability such that Plaintiffs would enjoy the life-long prestige of having graduated from Harvard…. (The Defendant) breached and continues to breach its contractual obligation to Plaintiffs by failing to adequately address antisemitism on its campus. 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.”

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According to Darshan-Leitner, the lawsuit “reveals the growing outrage and contempt that graduates all across the United States 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.”

Harvard has been embroiled in scandal since Claudine Gay resigned as university president on Jan. 2 amid allegations that she had plagiarized parts of her academic work and in the aftermath of congressional testimony on campus antisemitism.

Despite Gay’s resignation, Harvard continues to face congressional scrutiny as part of an investigation by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce into Jew-hatred on U.S. campuses.

Earlier this month, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), chair of the committee, said the Ivy League university had failed to meet the previous demand for documents, noting that 40% of the information provided was already publicly available. As a result, the House has issued subpoenas for Penny Pritzker (Harvard Corporation Senior Fellow,) interim president Alan Garber and N.P. Narvekar (Harvard Management Company CEO.)

It was the first time that the House has ever subpoenaed a university.

“Gone are the days of honest discourse at Harvard,” said attorney Tolchin, who is also representing the plaintiffs. “The school has sadly been given over 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.

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“Yet light and truth have been hard to find at Harvard,” he continued. “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.”

Dr. Bauer, a Harvard trained biologist, explained he was suing his alma mater because the school had “failed to live up to its own standard of excellence.

“Students and faculty demanding the destruction of Israel and the death of Jews are allowed to march on campus, threaten students, and disrupt classes on the pretense of freedom of speech,” he said. “Yet, the university disinvited a distinguished speaker because of her views on trans people, canceled the men’s soccer team’s season due to ‘vulgar’ comments on women players, and rescinded the admission of 10 students due to online activity that the university found offensive,” he added.

“Freedom of speech is only applied when Jews are being attacked,” he continued. “Harvard’s leadership has failed to adequately address the spasm of Jew-hatred on campus, and we, all Harvard alumni, are suing in order to get the university pointed back in the direction of being the leader in education and not the national disgrace it is today.”

Added plaintiff Purlow: “Before the Holocaust, antisemitism was deeply rooted in academic spheres and universities, mirroring the present-day environment. We are seeking justice for current students afraid to speak out for themselves and for those who endured silent suffering during the Holocaust. In memory of my relatives and the 6 million Jews who perished, we are determined not to remain silent. This suit represents a commitment to ensuring that history never repeats itself.”