A group of Jewish students and local residents sued San Francisco State University over alleged anti-Semitism on Monday, accusing school officials of tolerating and encouraging hostility toward Jews and enabling the disruption of an April 2016 campus speech by the mayor of Jerusalem.
“SFSU has fostered and sanctioned anti-Semitism from the highest levels and affirmed the actions of hostile, aggressive and disruptive students to regularly violate the rights of Jewish students,” lawyers for three leaders of the campus Jewish group Hillel and three nonstudents said in the federal court lawsuit.
They cited incidents dating back to 1994 — when a mural showing stars of David intertwined with dollar signs was displayed at the student union, then painted over after protests — and said Jewish students “feel fearful, intimidated and threatened on campus.”
The university said it had not been aware of the suit or its allegations. In a statement, university attorney Daniel Ojeda said, “We have been working closely with the Jewish community, among other interest groups, to address concerns and improve the campus environment for all students. Those efforts have been very productive and will continue notwithstanding this lawsuit.”
San Francisco State, like many other campuses, has been torn by conflicts over Israel, Zionism and Palestinians. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, focused on the disruption of an April 2016 appearance by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.
Speaking at a location far from the center of campus — due to discriminatory treatment by school officials, the suit claims — Barkat was six minutes into his remarks when about 20 students stood and started shouting, “Free Palestine,” “Israel is an apartheid state” and other chants, according to a report commissioned afterward by the university.
The protesters soon began using a microphone and prevented listeners from hearing most of Barkat’s speech, the report said.
The report, by an outside law firm, found that the protest was disruptive and violated school policies but posed no physical threat to Barkat or others.
The lawsuit said, however, that the protesters had threatened violence, that Jewish students felt frightened, and that school officials contributed to the hateful atmosphere by instructing campus police to “stand down” rather than halting the protest. Later, the suit said, officials showed their bias by letting the demonstrators off with a warning and no formal discipline.
The suit also cited the exclusion of Hillel from a campus “Know Your Rights” fair in February — a discriminatory action that school officials defended with a false claim that the group had missed a registration deadline, the plaintiffs’ lawyers said.
They said university President Leslie Wong, a defendant in the suit, acknowledged in a May 30 letter to five Jewish students that ”institutionalized anti-Semitism is part of what we at S.F. State must confront and mitigate.”
Wong’s “empty and overly general statements” failed to address Jewish students’ concerns about their rights and safety, the suit said.