Jewish students sue Columbia, Barnard over alleged antisemitism amid Gaza conflict

NEW YORK — Jewish students are suing Columbia University and Barnard College over allegations of “severe” and “pervasive” antisemitism at the affiliated Manhattan institutions.

It’s the second lawsuit the firm Kasowitz Benson Torres has brought in Manhattan federal court against campus antisemitism since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel. Students sued New York University last semester over Jewish students’ civil rights. Kasowitz has also targeted the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard University.

“Columbia continues to capitulate to pro-Hamas students and faculty, placing Columbia’s Jewish and Israeli community at risk,” said Marc Kasowitz, a lawyer for the plaintiffs. His statement continued to describe Columbia as a school “where hate and the promotion of violence is not just allowed but taught.”

“Our lawsuit seeks to protect Jewish students by exposing and expunging the antisemitic virus that permeates Columbia’s campus and classrooms,” he said.

The action comes just weeks after a Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives committee announced its own antisemitism probe, citing “grave concerns” about Columbia’s response. The university was asked to submit documents by Monday, including all reports of antisemitic incidents since 2021, disciplinary records and internal communications.

Spokespeople for Columbia and Barnard declined to comment on pending litigation.

As the war has continued and killed tens of thousands of people in the Middle East, Columbia students have responded with a steady drumbeat of demonstrations.

Pro-Palestinian students have been targeted with “doxxing” trucks and reported that a sickening spray at a campus rally sent them seeking medical attention. Two former Columbia students are being investigated as suspects, while a protest just outside the university’s gates over its response to the incident led to multiple arrests.

During the protests, the 114-page lawsuit alleges that Jewish students were subjected to antisemitic chants including “Jews will not defeat us,” and spat at, physically assaulted and threatened on campus and social media with epithets.

The five named plaintiffs are all Jewish at Columbia’s undergraduate and graduate schools, and one holds Israeli dual citizenship. Others are unnamed members of pro-Israel nonprofits who attend Columbia and Barnard.

“What is most striking about all of this is Columbia’s abject failure and deliberate refusal to lift a finger to stop and deter this outrageous antisemitic conduct and discipline the students and faculty who perpetrate it,” read the lawsuit.

The group of students said the result is a “double standard invidious to Jews and Israelis,” as the university selectively enforces its policies and hires professors who teach that Jewish Israelis are oppressors, with little space for discussion of the religious people’s complicated history of persecution. Two pro-Palestinian student groups have been kicked off campus for not following university policies.

“Columbia has permitted endemic antisemitism to exclude Jewish and Israeli students from full and equal participation in, and to deprive them of the full and equal benefits of, their educational experience at Columbia,” they said in court documents.

The plaintiffs are asking for monetary damages and a federal judge to force Columbia to implement specific and institutional remedial measures.