'Forced to deny my faith': Jewish student alleges UVA retaliation for telling media he was assaulted

University of Virginia says talking to reporter "does not implicate" student conduct standards, honor code. Both Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism, Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression are involved.
The Rotunda at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Va.

Founding father Thomas Jefferson once told a delegate to the Continental Congress that he would "not hesitate a moment" to choose "newspapers without a government" if he couldn't have both.

The public university founded by Jefferson feels differently, a federal Title VI civil rights complaint filed on behalf of a Jewish student suggests.

Matan Goldstein alleges the University of Virginia launched an honor code investigation against him for telling a reporter he was assaulted Oct. 25, 2023, while "peacefully attending" an anti-Israel protest as a counter-protester "and wearing a yarmulke and an Israeli flag," the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism told the Education Department this week.

UVA spokesperson Brian Coy told Just the News that "speaking to a reporter does not implicate the University of Virginia’s Standards of Student Conduct or Honor Code," but said "federal privacy laws" prevented him from commenting on specifics when asked whether the content of Goldstein's comments could trigger an investigation.

FAIR announced May 3 that UVA dropped the charge against Goldstein a week after it filed the federal Office for Civil Rights complaint. Managing director of legal advocacy Leigh Ann O'Neill told Just the News she was "given direct information confirming this fact, but I do not have written documentation that I can share on this matter."

FAIR is also trying to convince the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, which monitors federal civil rights enforcement, to hold a hearing with UVA leadership "to address the ongoing, pervasive instances of discriminatory hostility" against students based on "their actual or perceived race, national origin, religion, and ethnicity."

UVA is already under investigation by the Department of Education for a hostile environment to Jewish students, The Daily Progress reported March 2, based on a complaint by a redacted student. The Charlottesville newspaper said the agency will not provide an update on the status of the investigation, which started Dec. 29, 2023.

The so-called public Ivy has faced less widespread scrutiny than the real Ivy League for reported antisemitism in the wake of the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks by Hamas against Israeli civilians.

Columbia University officials including President Nemat Shafik endured their own House Education and the Workforce Committee hearing Wednesday, facing Republican accusations they ignored campus policies by failing to protect Jewish students from "some of the worst cases of antisemitic assaults, harassment, and vandalism on campus." 

Shafik was out of the country for committee's Ivy League hearing last fall in which a poor performances by University of Pennsylvania and Harvard presidents created a backlash that prompted, respectively, Liz Magill's firing and Claudine Gay's resignation.

On Thursday, the day after Shafik's Capitol Hill testimony and a massive protests at Columbia in which demostrators cheered for Hamas' military wing and called for Israel's fall, the New York Police Department arrested dozens of "Gaza Solidarity Encampment" protesters at the school for trespassing. 

California's Loyola Law School is going viral this week for a student caught on camera telling "ugly ass little Jewish people" to "get the f*ck out of here." It happened during a coordinated disruption of an event featuring Israeli Defense Forces members sharing their Gaza war experiences, the Jewish Law Students Association said.

UVA's Goldstein, an 18-year-old American Israeli, contacted FAIR's tip line last week to report he has endured "physical assault, vile insults, online bullying, and even death threats" on campus, based on religion, national origin and ethnicity even before Hamas terrorists attacked Israeli civilians Oct. 7, 2023.

A UVA professor at the Oct. 25 protest "even approached me and directly said that 'I should be ashamed of myself,'" he said. 

"I was a happy go lucky, serious student" but now "I am scared," the freshman wrote. "I do not dare wear my yarmulke or Star of David outside or in public. The University of Virginia has made me live in fear and I am forced to deny my faith."

"Nothing has been done ... beyond offering to let me move out of my dorm and live somewhere else," Goldstein said.

He "now lives in an undisclosed location out of fear for his own safety," FAIR told the feds, and combined with Goldstein's inability to safely wear symbols of his faith, "the law has clearly been violated."

Goldstein said he has "reported these incidents to every University authority I can think of, including the Office of Civil Rights, the Police Department" and UVA's Just Report It system for bias and harassment.

While UVA has said Just Report It does not punish First Amendment-protected speech, bias response teams and similar organizations have fared poorly in court when challenged for speech suppression, most recently Oklahoma State University's.

The home of Pistol Pete paid Speech First $18,000 in attorney's fees, disbanded its team and changed harassment and computer use policies to settle litigation this week, two months after the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected OK State's argument that Speech First's student members must identify themselves to have legal standing.

Speech First said it rewrote the harassment policy to conform to the Supreme Court's Davis standard, requiring "unwelcome conduct determined by a reasonable person" to be "so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access" to an education program or activity.

OK State's new computer policy, revised last summer while the 10th Circuit appeal was pending, no longer prohibits students who aren't employees from "transmitting political campaigning" messages.

UVA is ranked sixth among U.S. colleges for its "culture of free speech" in the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression's 2024 free speech rankings, and it receives the civil liberties group's best "green light" rating.

But it received middling grades for its due process protections in FIRE's last report on the subject from the 2021-2022 school year, not guaranteeing students written notice of allegations, access to evidence and active participation of an adviser. UVA's Coy said accused students receive due process.

"FIRE's actually already looking into" Goldstein's allegations but isn't ready to share findings this week, a spokesperson told Just the News when asked about his case. FIRE's due process ratings haven't been updated because "schools are in a holding pattern" until the Biden administration finalizes its Title IX regulation, expected next month, he said.

Goldstein hasn't been shy about voicing his allegations against UVA. The Jefferson Independent student newspaper interviewed him in November about being at "the center of this ongoing tension" between pro-Israel and pro-Palestine students, and his claims to The Daily Progress overlap with those in FAIR's federal civil rights complaint.

An Egyptian student in his dorm called the self-identified Israeli Jew a "bloodthirsty human being" a month before the Hamas attack, and Goldstein has "been told he 'sells the organs of Palestinians on the black market' and been called 'Nazi,' 'Hitler,' 'genocide-pursuer' and 'filthy Jew,'" he told The Daily Progress

It said Goldstein was allegedly "shoved and then slapped in the face while counterprotesting" the Oct. 25 Students for Justice in Palestine walkout. FAIR's complaint doesn't say how he was slapped but adds the attacker "fled the scene."

Local TV station CBS 19 featured Goldstein on March 6, where he accused UVA of falsely claiming he has yet to file a police report about any incident, and March 11 when parents of students accused the university of ignoring Virginia law by letting the SJP protesters conceal their faces, as organizers told them to do. 

UVA told CBS 19 it was "actively engaged with local commonwealth’s attorneys" on the mask question.

The TV interview forms the basis of Goldstein's honor code investigation, O'Neill told Just the News. 

UVA received a complaint from another student claiming that Goldstein lied in the interview about being assaulted, according to FAIR's federal complaint. It said the investigation tramples Goldstein's First Amendment rights, and his statements to a reporter "do not fall within the purview of UVA’s Honor Code" under the Honor Committee’s bylaws.

This constitutes retaliation, "exacerbat[ing] the hostility Matan experiences at UVA " and chilling "his protected speech and other expression," the civil rights complaint says.

The bylaws say the Honor Committee has jurisdiction over "any allegation of a Significant Act of Lying, Cheating or Stealing" by a student, "which alleged Act is committed with Knowledge."

UVA told The Daily Progress on March 2 that none of the 19 "reports related to potential antisemitism" it received last semester were "formal complaints." The student told CBS 19 he filed a police report Nov. 17, 2023, following the "filthy Jew" slur.

O'Neill told Just the News she wasn't sure how many reports Goldstein had filed or their format, but he "reported instances of harassment to UVA multiple times." Goldstein's lawyer didn't respond Thursday to a request sent through O'Neill.

UVA's Coy told Just the News that neither UVA's Office for Equal Opportunity and Civil Rights nor university police, "despite comprehensive investigative efforts ... have identified evidence that would support additional adjudication, including disciplinary actions or criminal prosecution," in response to antisemitism reports.