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Lawsuit: Jewish Students Claim University of Pennsylvania Hasn’t Done Enough to Curb Rising Antisemitism

— December 7, 2023

Attorneys for the two plaintiffs, both of whom are Jewish, contend that the University of Pennsylvania has “selectively” tolerated acts of hate and violence against its Jewish students.

Two University of Pennsylvania students have filed a civil rights lawsuit against the school, claiming that its administration has failed to take meaningful action against an alleged increase in antisemitic hatred, discrimination, and harassment.

According to 6-ABC, the two plaintiffs—both of whom are Jewish—say that they have heard antisemitic slurs on campus, and have seen repeated instances of hateful graffiti being allowed to remain in public spaces.

The complaint broadly asserts that the Ivy Leage university selectively enforces rules “to avoid protecting Jewish students from hatred and harassment, hires rabidly antisemitic professors who call for anti-Jewish violence and spread terrorist propaganda, and ignores Jewish students’ pleas for protection.”

In their complaint, plaintiffs Eyal Yakoby and Jordan Davis claim that these incidents have escalated since early October, when Israel initiated a near-unprecedented military campaign against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip.

Since the beginning of its campaign—prompted by one of the worst terror attacks against Israeli citizens in the country’s history—Israel has targeted a wide range of alleged Hamas facilities across Gaza.

However, although Israel maintains that it provides ample warning to Palestinian civilians who may be affected by these strikes, local health authorities in Gaza claim that thousands of people, including many children, have been killed.

International observers have struggled to provide an impartial account of events, with both Israel and Hamas having created and disseminated misinformation about the type and extent of non-combatant casualties.

Scales of Justice. Image via Flickr/user:mikecogh. (CCA-BY-2.0).

The lawsuit, similarly, seeks to cast pro-Palestine rallies and literature festivals hosted at the University of Pennsylvania as virulently antisemitic, pointing to instances where the school may have invited speakers with histories of criticizing not only the actions of the Israeli government but the integrity and culture of the Jewish people as a whole.

“Penn students and faculty openly support and extol Hamas’s atrocities,” the lawsuit alleges. “Even though such hate speech and conduct violate Penn’s conduct codes, Penn has refused to mete out any discipline, sitting idly by as the anti-Jewish harassment escalated.”

“Indeed, only two days before this filing, on December 3, 2023, an antisemitic student mob rampaged across Penn’s campus chant4ing for the destruction of Israel and its citizens, vandalizing multiple Penn buildings, including those surrounding a plaintiff’s dormitory, by scrawling the words “intifada,” “blood thirsty,” and “shame” on the walls,” the complaint adds. “After terrorizing plaintiffs and other Penn students, the mob headed to Center City to attack a restaurant, Goldie, solely because it is owned by an Israeli Jew.”

The lawsuit describes dozens of instances in which university faculty, or university-sponsored event participants, have made comments or engaged in actions that could be considered antisemitic—although many of the detailed comments could be easily and plausibly characterized as criticisms of the Israeli government’s policies, rather than unrestricted attacks on Jewish people and Jewish identity.

Nevertheless, many of the claims underscored by the plaintiffs indicate that at least some of the university’s faculty publicly and repeatedly minimized overt acts of violence against Israeli nationals.

Bloomberg Law notes that the complaint was filed shortly after University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill testified to Congress on allegations of widespread antisemitism.

“We recognize the right of peaceful protest and assembly, and we give broad protection to free expression—even expression that is offensive,” Magill told the House Education and Workforce Committee. “At the same time, we have zero tolerance for violence or speech intended to incite it.”

The University of Pennsylvania has yet to respond to media requests for comment on the lawsuit.


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