3 Jewish students sue New York University over antisemitism response

Nov 16, 2023, 7:30 AM

Three students say New York University in Manhattan is not listening to Jewish students complaining...

Three students say New York University in Manhattan is not listening to Jewish students complaining about acts of antisemitism. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

(Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

(CNN) — Three Jewish students are suing New York University over its alleged failure to enforce its anti-discrimination policies, claiming their civil rights were violated over the university’s handling of discrimination and harassment against Jewish students, according to court documents.

Related: Rabbi speaks on growing antisemitism in the U.S.

Bella Ingber, Sabrina Maslavi and Saul Tawil – each a junior attending NYU – allege in the civil action filed Tuesday that NYU created a hostile educational environment that subjected them and other Jewish students to “pervasive acts of hatred, discrimination, harassment, and intimidation” in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The suit claims there has been a “steadily increasing incidence of antisemitic attacks at NYU” over the past 10 years and says the university has failed to enforce its own policies to protect Jewish students.

The students “have been forced to run a campus gauntlet of verbal and physical harassment, threats, and intimidation” and claims their complaints have been “ignored, slow-walked, or met with gaslighting by NYU administrators” since the October 7 Hamas terror attacks in Israel, the lawsuit claims.

One of the incidents described in the lawsuit occurred on the night of October 17. The claim says Tawil was returning on his bicycle from a demonstration in Washington Square Park when he saw several people who were facing a “screaming woman” on the steps of a campus building. He stopped and told one of the people to not engage. A crowd gathered and, according to the complaint, several men wearing keffiyehs – traditional Middle Eastern scarves – moved very close to another man “as if they were going to attack.”

The lawsuit says: “Tawil moved behind a truck on the sidewalk to videotape the harassment. One of the men approached Tawil, screamed that ‘you have my f—— face on film,’ and forced him to open his phone’s camera roll and delete the video. Tawil did so, and the man then yelled in Tawil’s face, ‘get the f— out of here you dirty f—— Jew.’ Tawil got on his bike and fled.”

Tawil reported the incident to campus security and met with an investigator a week later. The lawsuit says the campus security official told him there was nothing the school could do and referred him to a hotline for emotional challenges.

John Beckman, a spokesperson for the university, said the lawsuit fails to accurately describe conditions on campus and the “many steps” the university has taken to battle antisemitism.

“We take the issues of antisemitism and any other forms of hate extremely seriously, and we are committed to safeguarding our community and providing an environment in which all students can live and learn in peace.  NYU was among the first universities in the US to publicly condemn Hamas’ terrorist attack on Israel,” Beckman said in a statement sent to CNN.

There are now more New York police and university officers on campus, Beckman said.

“NYU has promptly reviewed and opened investigations into reported complaints of antisemitism and related misconduct. NYU looks forward to setting the record straight, to challenging this lawsuit’s one-sided narrative, to making clear the many efforts NYU has made to combat antisemitism and provide a safe environment for Jewish students and non-Jewish students, and to prevailing in court.”

Reports of antisemitism triple in US

Reports of antisemitism are on the rise nationwide: A 316% increase in antisemitic incidents has hit the US since October 7, compared to the same period last year, according to preliminary data released Monday by the Anti-Defamation League. The lawsuit claims antisemitic incidents on US college campuses increased more than 40 percent in 2022.

The students, the lawsuit says, have been the “target of repeated verbal and physical threats” and felt unsafe on campus.

“As a result of the hostile environment created by NYU, plaintiffs are traumatized: their schoolwork has suffered and they often stay in their dorms or apartments or go home to be with their families, rather than venturing out to face harassment from fellow students in class or the library or rampaging mobs in the streets hurling anti-Jewish epithets,” the complaint reads.

A significant portion of the lawsuit centers around the presence of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) on NYU’s campus, a pro-Palestinian group that has recently had chapters suspended or removed due to alleged conduct at several other college campuses, such as Columbia and Brandeis universities.

Among other incidents, the lawsuit claims some attendees at an October rally organized by SJP made antisemitic remarks and “slit-your-throat gestures at the Jewish students present,” as well as comments praising the Holocaust.

CNN has reached out to the national and NYU chapter of the organization for comment.

In a statement, the law firm representing the three Jewish students, Kasowitz Benson Torres, wrote that NYU has “egregiously violated the civil rights” of the students.

“NYU’s deliberate indifference toward the plight of its Jewish students under siege by egregious antisemitism has been outrageous. We are asking the Court to compel NYU to comply with the Civil Rights Act, its own purported policies, and elementary human decency, which to date the University has failed and refused to do on its own,” partner Marc Kasowitz said in a statement.

The students are requesting, through a jury trial, that the court order NYU to implement remedial measures including terminating NYU personnel and students “responsible for such abuse” and require the university to pay damages to the three students.

The lawsuit was filed in US District Court in the Southern District of New York.

On Wednesday, university president Linda G. Mills announced a new NYU Center for the Study of Antisemitism will be established and open in fall 2024 thanks to a recent donation to the school.

“This gift comes at just the right time—at a moment that cries out for new study, new insights, and new solutions to combatting this age-old hatred,” she said in a statement.

“NYU unequivocally condemns antisemitism and other forms of hate, and we are committed to maintaining a campus environment where all can study and learn in an atmosphere of respect and live free from the fear of bigotry,” she said.

CNN’s Steve Almasy contributed to this report.

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3 Jewish students sue New York University over antisemitism response