‘Pervasive antisemitic climate for Jewish students’: ADL files complaint against UMass-Amherst

AMHERST, Mass. — The University of Massachusetts-Amherst has failed to address a “hostile antisemitic environment” against Jewish students on its campus, according to a federal complaint filed this week by the Anti-Defamation League.

The complaint, filed by the ADL and the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law on Tuesday with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, comes amid ongoing protests over the Israel-Hamas war seen at colleges and universities nationwide and concerning reports of antisemitic activity on college campuses across America.

The complaint alleges that UMass-Amherst has failed to address “severe discrimination and harassment of Jewish and Israeli students,” including a violent assault against a Jewish student. The complaint seeks remedies under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“Even after a violent antisemitic assault on campus, UMass has done nothing to make Jewish students feel safe and, infuriatingly, this assault is the tip of the iceberg – part of a persistent pattern of enabling hate against Jews,” Jonathan Greenblatt, ADL CEO and national director, said in a statement. “This is a textbook example of an administration that is deliberately indifferent and negligent – the U.S. Department of Education must intervene immediately.”

UMass is among several schools where concerns have been raised about antisemitism on campus.

In February, the co-chairperson of Harvard University’s talk force on antisemitism resigned amid concerns that the prestigious Ivy League school would not act on the group’s recommendations. That same month, Harvard condemned what it called a “flagrantly antisemitic cartoon” that an undergraduate group posted on social media.

House Republicans this week launched an investigation into federal funding for universities amid the campus protests and reports of growing antisemitism on college and university campuses, The Associated Press reported.

“We will not allow antisemitism to thrive on campus, and we will hold these universities accountable for their failure to protect Jewish students on campus,” House Speaker Mike Johnson said at a news conference on Tuesday.

Dylan Jacobs, a senior at UMass-Amherst, was called an antisemitic slur and then punched and kicked repeatedly by another student in an attack corroborated by multiple eyewitnesses, according to the complaint.

“A small Israeli flag was ripped from his hand, stabbed and thrown in a trash can. While UMass-Amherst was quick to condemn the attack, it did little beyond that,” the ADL said in a statement. “Instead, it spent nearly six months ignoring the incident, despite requests from the victim to address the matter.”

Jacobs was subsequently given a no-contact order and “told he must stay away from members of Students for Justice in Palestine,” who could still approach Jacobs, the ADL said.

“This could effectively create a situation in which Mr. Jacobs is in violation of the directive through no fault of his own. But, without explanation, the SJP members were not subjected to a no-contact order,” the ADL said. “UMass-Amherst failed to provide Mr. Jacobs with any information regarding the basis of said no-contact directive and effectively established a potentially dangerous dynamic.”

What kind of message does this send to the UMass community? It is no wonder anti-Semitic protestors continue to block entrances and exits to buildings, call for violence against Jews, harass and intimidate Jewish students, disrupt events and spew anti-Semitic conspiracy theories,” stated

University officials have yet to hold Jacobs’ attacker accountable, Kenneth Marcus, chairman of the Brandeis Center and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights for George W. Bush and Donald Trump, said in a statement.

“A Jewish student was charged at and repeatedly and violently punched and kicked for holding an Israeli flag at a Hillel Bring Them Home event, and what did the university do? They issued a statement urging ‘peaceful advocacy’ and simultaneously condemned Islamophobia,” Marcus said. “Adding insult to injury, it took them five months to hold a hearing on the violent assault and they have yet to hold the attacker accountable.”

“What kind of message does this send to the UMass community? It is no wonder anti-Semitic protestors continue to block entrances and exits to buildings, call for violence against Jews, harass and intimidate Jewish students, disrupt events and spew anti-Semitic conspiracy theories,” Marcus said. “Following the law, holding perpetrators accountable and issuing consequences is not rocket science. It’s beyond shameful that we have to call in the Department of Education to get a school to address a violent anti-Semitic assault and ensure other students aren’t similarly attacked.”

The complaint cites additional examples of antisemitic incidents including “genocidal chants, antisemitic slurs, and physical threats.”

“There were statements from UMass-Amherst student groups praising Hamas’s terrorism as justified ‘resistance,’ and disruptive pro-Hamas protests that prevented people from physically entering or exiting buildings, working, or studying,” the ADL said.

“There was also online harassment of Jewish students in a group chat, which included derogatory, vile, and antisemitic language. This rhetoric was so egregious that a perpetrator’s account was banned from a UMass public school page,” the ADL said.

The complaint urges the Office for Civil Rights “to compel the university’s administration to implement a series of measures necessary to secure the safety of Jewish students at UMass, including issuing a public statement condemning antisemitic hostility and the BDS movement, urging the university to incorporate the IHRA working definition of antisemitism into its campus policies to better recognize the types of antisemitic discrimination confronting Jewish students, and providing mandatory antisemitism training to university administrators, faculty, students and staff.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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