American University faces federal antisemitism complaint for alleged 'hostile environment'

An American Israeli student whose family and friends were murdered by Hamas on Oct. 7 said he was spat on and targeted with obscenities.
American University, Washington, D.C., Nov. 1, 2023, insert: Antisemitism complaint evidence

American University is facing a federal complaint after Jewish and Israeli students at the Washington, D.C., school allegedly experienced years of a growing "hostile environment" that evolved into persistent threats after Hamas' Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

When Jewish students gathered evidence to support their claims of antisemitism in November, the school's Student Accountability and Restorative Practices Office opened an investigation into the students, the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Law alleged in its complaint filed last week with the Education Department's Civil Rights Office. 

"From the outset, the University has used its investigation to harass and intimidate the Jewish and Israeli students," the complaint states. Some of those students were charged with harassment and disorderly conduct for filming people ripping down posters of some of the 250 Israelis who were taken hostage on Oct. 7, even though university policy prohibits the removal of posters, per the filing.

The complaint, which contains the accounts of 12 Jewish and Israeli students who said they experienced antisemitism, says the school violated Title VI, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of trade, color and national origin in schools that receive federal taxpayer dollars. 

In another example given, an American Israeli student whose family and friends were murdered by Hamas on Oct. 7 said he was spat on and targeted with obscenities, and his piano recital flier was vandalized with a swastika and the message: "DEATH TO ZIONISTS HITLER WAS RIGHT." Because the school was unable to ensure the student's safety, the FBI sent two plain-clothes officers to his recital, according to the complaint. 

The campus has a history of Nazi swastikas being drawn and carved as well. For three years in a row, the first-year dormitories have been vandalized with swastikas, with the first two incidents occurring during the Jewish High Holiday season and the most recent one occurring days after the Oct. 7 attack. 

While the American University president has condemned the swastikas, the school "has yet to take effective steps to identify the perpetrators, hold them accountable and prevent the anti-Semitic vandalism of first-year dormitories from reoccurring," per the complaint.

Additionally, faculty and peers have been harassing and shunning Jewish students in their classes, according to the complaint. 

"This hostile environment for Jews and Israelis has been growing for years, but has intensified following the October 7 Hamas attack against Israelis," the complaint states.

The Brandeis Center also made several recommendations to the school, including to equally enforce its code of conduct and issue a statement denouncing antisemitism and recognizing that Zionism is a major part of Jewish identity. 

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