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February 10, 2020 7:15 pm

Jewish Alumna Sues Harvard Club After Instructor Allegedly Assaulted, Insulted Her

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The Harvard Club of New York City. Photo: Jim Henderson / Public Domain.

A Jewish alumna of Harvard University says she was physically attacked by a male faculty member while attending a lecture at the Harvard Club of New York City, then unjustly stripped of her club membership, according to a recent lawsuit.

Vanesa Levine — who completed a master’s degree in 2018 — alleged in a complaint filed late January in New York State Supreme Court that she and her mother attended a February 2019 lecture at the social club titled “The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine,” delivered by Rashid Khalidi, a professor at Columbia University and former official with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

Following the conclusion of his talk, Levine “peacefully waited her turn in the Q&A line to ask questions of the lecturer,” the complaint maintains. Upon beginning to ask her questions — namely, “how peace could be had if the Palestinian people were educated at a young age to: support terrorism against Jews and Israelis, jihad, and not to recognize the legitimacy of the State of Israel” — many attendees “became mob-like” in expressing their opposition to her question, according to the complaint.

It was at this point that Faris Saah — an instructor in finance and economics at Harvard Extension School — allegedly forcefully grabbed her. “There was bruising where he grabbed her, one bruise on each side of her upper arm,” her lawyer Jeffrey Levine, who is not related to Vanesa, told The Algemeiner on Monday.

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In a Facebook video she published shortly after the alleged assault, Vanesa said was “literally silenced by the entire room” while trying to pose her questions.

“Right when I got up, a grown man my father’s age came and put his hands on me,” she recounted. “He tried taking the mic from me, he pushed me, he called me a slut.”

The complaint similarly mentions the slur Saah is accused of repeatedly shouting at Levine — “sharmuta,” which is Arabic slang for “whore.”

After hearing the insults, Levine’s mother confronted Saah, asking, “Who do you think you are calling my daughter a whore?” the complaint stated.

Saah allegedly proceeded to insult Vanesa’s female family members, calling her mother a “daughter of a whore” in Arabic, according to Jeffrey Levine, Vanesa’s attorney.

Saah did not respond to The Algemeiner‘s request for comment by press time. Approximately three months after the lecture, the complaint alleges, he signed a statement at the direction of the Harvard Club maintaining that Levine had “aggressively and maniacally” danced around the room while holding the microphone, placing Khalidi in danger.

However, in comments to the New York Post, he said, “I don’t remember having been at the lecture.”

“There’s not a single word of accuracy in any of that,” he added of the charges.

The complaint described Saah’s alleged attacks as “anti-Semitic and/or anti-Jewish,” and indicated Levine was ultimately able to finish asking her questions. Some time after returning to her seat, however, both she and her mother were asked by security to leave the lecture room, and were followed out by some attendees who acted “aggressively and violently” and took photographs of Levine, according to the complaint.

While these individuals appeared to have faced no meaningful ramifications for their behavior, the Harvard Club — which is independent from the university — subsequently took action to penalize Levine, the complaint alleges.

After asking Levine and her mother to testify separately — a request the Harvard alumna was prepared to comply with, on the condition that she would not be separated from her mother — the club notified Levine of a March vote recommending her expulsion, according to the complaint.

Levine objected to the vote and requested a hearing on the matter, which took place on July 10. During the proceedings, she was allegedly repeatedly interrupted and told there was no evidence, aside from her testimony, that an assault took place — even though the complaint claims there was an attendee who attempted to come to Levine’s defense and gave a statement to Harvard Club security.

Levine was accused of disrupting the lecture, and further told to remove the Facebook video she had posted detailing her alleged assault — a request Levine strongly rejected, as “she did not want to be silenced yet again,” said her attorney Jeffrey Levine, who was permitted to attend the hearing as a guest, but not to act as her legal representative.

The hearing allegedly resulted in a suspension of Levine’s membership, which was ultimately terminated in August. The lawsuit seeks a reinstatement of her membership, as well as financial compensation for physical and emotional damages and a change to Harvard Club bylaws and rules.

When contacted for comment, an official with Harvard Club told The Algemeiner on Monday that Levine “disrupted a Club program.”

“She was subsequently removed from membership in accordance with the Club’s bylaws,” the official added.

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