Jewish students are planning to sue elite universities like Cornell and Harvard, accusing them of not doing enough to stop 'explosion' of antisemitism on campus

  • Jewish students are planning to sue colleges like Cornell and Harvard for doing enough to stop antisemitism on campuses.

  • "There has been an explosion of antisemitism on college campuses," attorney Mark Ressler told Insider.

  • Ressler says his law firm plans to file suits against multiple colleges, accusing them of violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.

Jewish college students in the United States are gearing up to sue elite universities like Cornell and Harvard over allegations that the schools have turned a blind eye in the face of rampant antisemitism on campuses, Insider has learned.

The lead attorney handling the soon-to-be-filed lawsuits, Mark Ressler of the New York City-based firm Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP, said in an interview on Tuesday that antisemitism on college campuses has long been a problem, but that the deadly Oct. 7 terrorist attacks by Hamas on Israel "poured a lot of fuel on an already raging fire."

"There has been an explosion of antisemitism on college campuses around the country and we had been looking at this issue prior to the massacre on Oct. 7," Ressler said.

Ressler told Insider the law firm is planning to file multiple suits in the coming weeks and months against several colleges, including Harvard, Cornell, New York University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Stanford University, accusing the schools of violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits race discrimination by any entity receiving federal funds.

The news of the planned suits was first reported by Fox Business on Monday.

Cornell declined to comment on the matter to Insider on Tuesday. Later Tuesday, federal officials announced that a Cornell junior, Patrick Dai, was arrested and charged with posting threats to kill or injure another using interstate communications.

Harvard, New York University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the planned lawsuits.

"We're going to show that the universities had notice of acts of hatred and bigotry towards Jewish students, that there was pervasive anti-Jewish bigotry on campus, and that administrators and university bureaucrats acted with deliberate indifference, which is the legal term, with respect to campus antisemitism," Ressler said.

Ressler pointed to the recent violent online threats made against Jewish students at Cornell and reports about Jewish students at New York City's Cooper Union college who huddled in the school's library during a pro-Palestinian protest amid the Israel-Hamas war. Reports initially said that the library doors were locked as the students huddled, but Cooper Union told Insider the doors were never locked. An NYPD official said there was no "direct threat" and "there was no danger to any students in the school."

"Things are out of control on campus," said Ressler.

The plaintiffs in the planned lawsuits will be "students who have been victimized by on-campus bigotry and hatred directed at them because they are Jewish," Ressler said.

'This is not a free speech issue'

The attorney added that the cases have nothing to do with free speech rights.

"This is not a free speech issue, though we anticipate the colleges will try to make it one," Ressler said, explaining, "It's not free speech to walk up to Jewish students on campus and say, 'Fuck the Jews, Hitler was right,' and that's an incident we have at a university."

Ressler said that over the years universities have done "great work" to have "zero tolerance for racism and sexism, and Islamophobia and homophobia, as there should be."

"And yet when it comes to Jewish students, university administrators have a double standard and they have put their head in the sand and allowed this problem to become out of control," he said.

The firm, Ressler said, has gotten an influx of reports of discrimination against Jewish students in the aftermath of the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel that left more than 1,400 people dead in the Jewish state.

The US has seen a major spike in antisemitic incidents, according to the ADL

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) told Insider on Tuesday that the non-profit organization has recorded a nearly 400% increase in antisemitic incidents across the US, including reported assaults, harassment and vandalism, since the Palestinian militant group Hamas launched its surprise assault on Israel.

ADL recorded a total of 312 antisemitic incidents between Oct. 7 and Oct. 23, 190 of which it said were directly linked to the Israel-Hamas war. Since the Oct. 7 terror attack, the ADL recorded 54 antisemitic incidents on school campuses, 43 of which the organization said could also be directly linked to the war.

According to the organization, there have been 110 anti-Israel rallies on US campuses since the war started and the non-profit said at least 27 of them included "expressions of support for terrorism."

Israel continues its bombardment of Gaza in retaliation for the attacks by Hamas and, according to Gaza's health ministry, more than 8,000 have already been killed in the Palestinian territory.

October 31, 2023: This story has been updated to include the arrest of a student at Cornell University.

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