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November 3, 2018 10:00 am

Judge Dismisses Federal Lawsuit Alleging Antisemitism at San Francisco State University

avatar by Shiri Moshe

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The J. Paul Leonard Library at San Francisco State University. Photo: Webbi1987 via Wikimedia Commons.

A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit earlier this week alleging that San Francisco State University had tolerated or encouraged antisemitism.

The lawsuit — whose defendants included SFSU, the Board of Trustees of the California State University, and several administrators and faculty — was filed by five current and former Jewish students and two Jewish community members in June 2017. It claimed that antisemitism had been problem at SFSU for decades, and centered on two recent events — a February 2017 incident when the Jewish campus group Hillel was blocked from taking part in a “Know Your Rights” information fair, and the disruption of a talk by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat in April 2016 by anti-Israel activists.

The case was initially dismissed with leave to amend in March, after Judge William Orrick advised plaintiffs to “allege specific intent to discriminate.” A second amended complaint submitted later that month.

Yet Orrick said in a judgement filed on Monday that the second complaint failed to demonstrate a violation of the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights, namely under the First Amendment and Equal Protection Clause — even while recognizing that the “plaintiffs, and some other members of the Jewish or Israeli community in or around SFSU, feel deeply that SFSU has not done enough to curtail others’ anti-Semitic behaviors and to foster a better environment for Jewish and pro-Israeli students.”

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He argued that while plaintiffs accused SFSU of maintaining a “pervasively hostile” towards Jewish and Israeli students — thereby violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which affords protection based on “race (Jewish) and national origin/ancestry (Israeli) grounds” — the allegations presented “generally do not identify specific events or individuals who witnessed or suffered harassment.”

Moreover, Orrick said that even if he assumed the plaintiffs had “plausibly alleged a hostile environment,” they failed to demonstrate “that defendants acted with deliberate indifference” and that the plaintiffs had sustained significant injury due to their conduct.

The Lawfare Project — a pro-Israel legal group which filed the case alongside with the firm Winston & Strawn — said that it strongly disagreed with Orrick’s order and intended “to pursue an appeal in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.”

A second lawsuit alleging similar discrimination on the part of SFSU was filed by the group in state court in January, and will go to trial in March.

“We always knew that the road to justice would be long, and we look forward to continuing to fight for the members of the community who have suffered — and continue to suffer — at SFSU because of their Jewish or Israeli heritage,” the Lawfare Project said.

The advocacy group Palestine Legal — which has supported one of the defendants in the case, SFSU Professor Rabab Abdulhadi — conversely applauded Orrick’s decision, arguing that the lawsuit “sought to compel the university to restrict the speech of students and faculty who support Palestinian freedom.”

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