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Jewish Student Files Class Action Lawsuit against Columbia University

By Nadia El-Yaouti | Posted on May 7, 2024

Selcuk Acar/Anadolu via Getty Images via The Hill

Photo Source: Selcuk Acar/Anadolu via Getty Images via The Hill

A Jewish student at Columbia University has filed a class action lawsuit against the Ivy League university amid pro-Palestinian protests that disrupted student learning and heightened safety concerns among Jewish students. The lawsuit was filed earlier this month against Columbia’s board of trustees in federal court in the Southern District of New York.

The student, identified in the lawsuit as C.S., is described as a second-year student who is arguing that the school failed to provide her and others “a safe educational environment’ for students as the protest unfolded. Additionally, the student takes issue with the school’s decision to shift student learning from in-person classes to hybrid classes. These actions have left Jewish students feeling isolated from their peers and fearing for their safety.

The Hill reports that the student says protesters established a “Gaza Solidarity Encampment” and as a result, she and other Jewish students have faced an increased risk of threatening behaviors such as harassment and even physical harm from pro-Palestinian demonstrators. The complaint acknowledges that students do have the fundamental right to engage in peaceful protests but argues that a number of demonstrators have “gone well beyond” exercising their freedom to assemble and are instead pursuing “different and menacing goals” and are “openly inciting violence against Jewish students.”

Photos accompanying the lawsuit depict provocative signs on display in front of counter-protestors. One demonstrator is described as wearing a Star of David necklace as he yelled, “Attention, everyone! We have Zionists who have entered the camp!”

The lawsuit explains, “The encampment has been the center of round-the-clock harassment of Jewish students, who have been punched, shoved, spat upon, blocked from attending classes and moving freely about campus, and targeted by pro-terrorist hate speech–– both verbal and in written form on massive banners and signs––with statements such as: ‘Death to the Jews’; ‘Long live Hamas’; and ‘Globalize the Intifada.’”

The lawsuit goes on to highlight the university’s response to the protests, arguing that the school’s decision to take learning remotely isolates Jewish students.

“By implementing a hybrid learning approach, the university fails to address the underlying safety concerns while creating a stark divide in the educational experiences of Jewish and non-Jewish students,” the lawsuit explains.

Another Columbia student who is listed as a student representative in the lawsuit and an acting attorney in the complaints, Jay Edelson, says that the university allowed Jewish students to be “pushed off campus by open threats and harassment from extremists within the protest movement.” In a statement shared with NewsNation, Edelson explains, “Rather than protect its students, Columbia has been complicit, offering an “internet-optional” university that only the students it can’t protect have to use. We’re fighting for safe passage for all Columbia students on the campus that they all have a right to,” Edelson said in a statement to NewsNation.

While the university has not responded to the lawsuit, Columbia president Minouche Shafik shared a statement that read in part, “I know that many of our Jewish students, and other students as well, have found the atmosphere intolerable in recent weeks. Many have left campus, and that is a tragedy. To those students and their families, I want to say to you clearly: You are a valued part of the Columbia community. This is your campus too.”

The lawsuit is seeking an emergency injunction that would force the school to enforce its Code of Conduct which allows students to secure access to education without feeling exposed to the dangers posed by the demonstrators.

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