Jewish student sues Columbia for failing to provide a safe environment amid campus protests

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An anonymous Jewish student filed a lawsuit Monday against Columbia University, alleging that the Ivy League school has failed to provide “a safe educational environment” for its students amid ongoing pro-Palestinian protests. 

In the lawsuit, the second-year student claims that since demonstrators established a “Gaza Solidarity Encampment” more than a week ago, she and other openly Jewish students have felt increasingly at risk of harassment and even physical harm. 

“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”; “Globalize the Intifada,” the lawsuit said.

In addition to safety concerns, the lawsuit also criticizes the administration’s decision to shift to a “hybrid” model of education for the remainder of the academic year, arguing that this response not only disrupted thousands of students’ educational experience but has also isolated Jewish students from their environment and peers. 

“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 reads. 

While the plaintiff acknowledges students’ right to engage in peaceful protests, the lawsuit argues that a subset of demonstrators have “gone well beyond” exercising this right and have instead sought to advance “different and menacing goals.”

“These extreme demonstrators are not engaging in constitutionally protected free speech. Instead, they are openly inciting violence against Jewish students,” the lawsuit reads.

Columbia University declined to comment on pending litigation.

Jay Edelson, a student representative of the class and an attorney acting in the lawsuit, argues that Columbia has allowed its Jewish students to be “pushed off campus by open threats and harassment from extremists within the protest movement.”

“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.

The Hill has reached out to Edelson for comment.

Meanwhile, the university’s president, Minouche Shafik, publicly recognized the effect that protests have had on the school’s Jewish population, pledging her commitment to “making Columbia safe for everyone” in a statement issued Monday.

“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,” Shafik said in the statement.

The class action complaint, filed against Columbia’s board of trustees in the Southern District of New York, also requests an emergency injunction requiring Columbia to enforce its Statement of Ethical Conduct and Administrative Code of Conduct to provide secure access to education so that students may safely complete the semester in-person.

News of the lawsuit comes as the university began to suspend students refusing to leave the pro-Palestinian encampment hours after the 2 p.m. deadline to leave had passed.

NewsNation is owned by Nexstar Media Group, which also owns The Hill. 

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