Two Jewish students file federal lawsuit against MIT over campus antisemitism

Claim alleges that the university has approved antisemitic activities on campus and tolerated discrimination and harassment against Jewish students and faculty

Students walk past the "Great Dome" atop Building 10 on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus in Cambridge, Mass, April 3, 2017. 
(AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)
Students walk past the "Great Dome" atop Building 10 on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus in Cambridge, Mass, April 3, 2017. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)

BOSTON — Two Jewish students filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against the Massachusetts Institute of Technology accusing the university of allowing antisemitism on campus that has resulted in them being intimidated, harassed and assaulted.

The lawsuit mirrors similar legal actions filed since the October 7 Hamas terror onslaught in southern Israel, including at Columbia University, New York University, Harvard University and University of Pennsylvania.

In the MIT lawsuit, the students and a nonprofit that fights antisemitism, StandWithUs Center for Legal Justice, accused the university of approving antisemitic activities on campus and tolerating discrimination and harassment against Jewish students and faculty.

“As a result of MIT’s blatant and intentional disregard for its legal and contractual obligations to its students, plaintiffs and other students have suffered injury to themselves and their educational experience,” the lawsuit alleges. “Jewish and Israeli students at MIT have felt unsafe attending classes, have in some instances deferred graduation dates or exams, and some professors have left the university.”

A statement from MIT said the university does not typically comment on pending litigation.

“Generally, we’d note MIT has established processes in place to address concerns of discrimination and harassment,” according to the statement.

The lawsuit is requesting the court prohibit MIT from “establishing, implementing, instituting, maintaining, or executing policies, practices, or protocols that penalize or discriminate against Jewish students.” It also is demanding that MIT take any preventive measures including firing staff and expelling students who engage in antisemitic behavior.

The lawsuit also calls for the university to communicate to the school community that it will “condemn, investigate, and punish any conduct that harasses members of the Jewish community, or others on the basis of their ethnic or ancestral background.”

Students hang a Palestinian flag on the student center wall at a pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel rally at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, October 19, 2023. (Photo by Joseph Prezioso / AFP)

Last month, MIT suspended a student group that held demonstrations against Israel’s war with the Hamas terror organization in Gaza because it didn’t go through the school’s approval process. In a video message explaining the suspension, MIT President Sally Kornbluth said criticizing policies of any government including Israel was permitted but that “members of one community shouldn’t feel it’s OK to vilify and shun Israeli and Jewish members of our community.”

“Equally, we shouldn’t feel it’s OK to vilify everyone who advocates for the Palestinian people as supporting Hamas,” Kornbluth said. “We definitely shouldn’t feel it’s OK to single out other members of our community because of where they’re from or what they believe and tell them that they’re not welcome on our campus.”

Fallout from the Israel-Hamas war has roiled campuses across the US and reignited a debate over free speech. College leaders have struggled to define the line where political speech crosses into harassment and discrimination, and Jewish and Arab students have raised concerns that schools are doing too little to protect them.

The issue took center stage in December when the presidents of Harvard, Penn and MIT testified at a congressional hearing on campus antisemitism. Asked by Republican lawmakers whether calls for the genocide of Jews would violate campus policies, the presidents offered lawyerly answers and declined to say unequivocally that it was prohibited speech.

Their answers prompted weeks of backlash from donors and alumni, leading to the resignation of Presidents Liz Magill at Penn and Claudine Gay at Harvard.

From left, Harvard President Claudine Gay, left, University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) President Sally Kornbluth listen during a hearing of the House Committee on Education on Capitol Hill, December 5, 2023 in Washington. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

The Hamas-led terrorists massacred some 1,200 people in Israel, mainly civilians on October 7, and abducted 253 others amid scenes of horrific brutality and violence.

Israel has said it believes 130 hostages taken that day remain in Gaza, but that 31 of them are dead. There were 105 civilians released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November, and four hostages were released prior to that. Three hostages have been rescued by troops alive, and the bodies of 11 hostages have also been recovered, including three mistakenly killed by the military.

Vowing to dismantle the Palestinian terror group, Israel launched an unprecedented ground and air campaign in the Gaza Strip, which has seen about half the Strip’s residences destroyed, displacing over a million people, many of whom face the risk of starvation, according to UN agencies.

Israel’s offensive aimed at destroying Hamas has killed some 30,800 people, according to the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza. That figure cannot be independently verified and includes some 13,000 Hamas terrorists Israel says it has killed in battle. The IDF also says it killed some 1,000 gunmen inside Israel on October 7.

The US Department of Education has repeatedly warned colleges that they are required to fight antisemitism and Islamophobia on their campuses or risk losing federal money. The agency has opened dozens of investigations at colleges and universities in response to complaints of antisemitism and Islamophobia since the October 7 assault, including at Harvard, Stanford and MIT.

Times of Israel Staff contributed to this report.

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