San Francisco State University has been hit with a lawsuit, alleging systemic patterns of discrimination and harassment directed towards Jewish students.
The lawsuit filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California names the Board of Trustees of the California State University System, SFSU President Leslie Wong and others as defendants. The plaintiffs, including students, alumni and community members are represented by attorneys from The Lawfare Project and the global law firm Winston & Strawn LLP.
From a press release, filed by Amanda Berman, Lawfare Project Director of Legal Affairs
and Brooke Goldstein, Lawfare Project Director
The lawsuit was triggered following the alleged complicity of senior university administrators and police officers in the disruption of an April, 2016, speech by the Mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat. At that event organized by SF Hillel, Jewish students and audience members were subjected to genocidal and offensive chants and expletives by a raging mob that used bullhorns to intimidate and drown out the Mayor’s speech and physically threaten and intimidate members of the mostly-Jewish audience. At the same time, campus police – including the chief – stood by, on order from senior university administrators who instructed the police to “stand down” despite direct and implicit threats and violations of university codes governing campus conduct.
The lawsuit states that “SFSU has not merely fostered and embraced anti-Jewish hostility -it has systematically supported … student groups as they have doggedly organized their efforts to target, threaten, and intimidate Jewish students on campus and deprive them of their civil rights and their ability to feel safe and secure as they pursue their education at SFSU.” SFSU continues to affirm its preference for those targeting the Jewish community, according to the lawsuit, by claiming to handle such incidents successfully by removing the Jewish students from their lawful assembly without allowing them the opportunity to exercise their free speech rights.”
Making matters worse, no actions were ever taken by SFSU against the disruptive students, no disciplinary charges were ever filed, and no sanctions were ever imposed against the groups or students responsible for committing these acknowledged violations.
“Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the underpinning of the modern American ethos of equal protection and anti-discrimination. This case isn’t about Jews, it’s about equal protection under the law,” says Brooke Goldstein, Lawfare Project Director. “If the courts fail to apply Title VI in this context, we are creating a massive loophole that will ultimately be exploited to target other marginalized minority communities. If we refuse to enforce anti-discrimination law for Jews, if we say Jews don’t deserve equal protection, it will erode constitutional protections for everyone. Jews must be protected the same as any other minority group, or the bedrock of civil rights law will crumble.”
In addition to the disruption of the speech by Nir Barkat, the lawsuit describes a long list of discrimination, intimidation and mistreatment of Jewish students at SFSU. Following are just a few examples:
In 1994, a ten-foot mural was erected on SFSU’s student union building that portrayed yellow Stars of David intertwined with dollar signs, skulls and crossbones, and the words “African Blood.”
In 1997, a banner depicting an Israeli flag with a swastika next to an American flag with a dollar sign was hung over the same wall where the 1994 mural had been painted.
In April of 2002, posters appeared around campus advertising an event called “Genocide in the 21st Century,” featuring a dead baby on the label of a soup can, surrounded on either side by Israeli flags.
In May of 2002, following a Peace rally, a small group of Jewish students were targeted by a large group of students who shouted bigoted and offensive remarks, including “Hitler didn’t finish the job,” “Get out or we’ll kill you,” and “Go back to Russia.”
In 2009, SFSU hosted on-campus events that advocated for the elimination of the Jewish state of Israel.
In 2016, President Wong complained that in all his years, he had never seen a university donor withhold a pledge because of a “political issue.” A Jewish Studies faculty member told him, “the physical safety of Jewish students is never a political issue.” President Wong replied, “on this, we will have to agree to disagree.”
In 2017, when specifically asked whether Zionists are welcome at SFSU, President Wong refused to provide the only proper answer: “Yes.” Instead, President Wong demurred, stating “That’s one of those categorical statements I can’t get close to. . . . Am I comfortable opening up the gates to everyone? Gosh, of course not.”
"Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the underpinning of the modern American ethos of equal protection and anti-discrimination. This case isn’t about Jews, it’s about equal protection under the law,” says Brooke Goldstein, Lawfare Project Director. “If the courts fail to apply Title VI in this context, we are creating a massive loophole that will ultimately be exploited to target other marginalized minority communities. If we refuse to enforce anti-discrimination law for Jews, if we say Jews don’t deserve equal protection, it will erode constitutional protections for everyone. Jews must be protected the same as any other minority group, or the bedrock of civil rights law will crumble."
Read the full complaint here
Read students and community members first hand accounts of the campus climate at SFSU here
Read the full press release from the Lawfare Project here
For more documentation of the systemic harassment of Jewish students at SFSU, see the blog San Francisco State Unbecoming