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Feds investigating Harvard, other schools over antisemitic incidents

iStock/Marcio Silva
iStock/Marcio Silva

The U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights has recently opened an investigation into Harvard University over claims of antisemitic incidents on campus.

The OCR opened a Title VI Shared Ancestry Investigation into the Massachusetts-based Ivy League school on Tuesday, along with a similar investigation into the New York City Department of Education.

This type of investigation is centered on Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans discrimination based on race or national origin, including harassment based on a person's shared ancestry or ethnicity.

Harvard and the NYC Education Department are included on a list of current investigations, with other recently opened investigations involving claims of bigotry on the campuses of the University of Tampa in Florida, Columbia University in New York, Cornell University of New York, Lafayette College of Pennsylvania, Wellesley College of Massachusetts, the University of Pennsylvania and The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art of New York.

"The inclusion of an institution on this list does not mean that the institution violated a federal anti-discrimination statute; rather, it means that a complaint was filed with OCR and the agency determined the complaint should be opened for investigation, or the agency has opened a compliance review," an Education Department disclaimer reads.

Harvard spokesperson Jason A. Newton said in a statement that the university supports "the work of the Office of Civil Rights to ensure students' rights to access educational programs are safeguarded and will work with the office to address their questions."

There has been a reported increase in antisemitic sentiment following the start of the Israel-Hamas war, which was sparked by the terrorist group's Oct. 7 attack on Southern Israel that killed 1,200 people. More than 240 people were taken hostage.

In response, Israel launched retaliatory airstrikes and a ground offensive in Gaza, seeking to eradicate Hamas, which has controlled Gaza since 2007, and secure the release of hostages. The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry claims about 15,000 people have died in Gaza since the start of the war. 

In response to Israel's offensive, there have been many large-scale protests across the globe.

Shortly after the Hamas attack, the Harvard Palestine Solidarity Groups released a letter co-signed by over 30 student organizations that blamed Israel for the outbreak of violence and refused to condemn the Islamic terrorist group's actions.

Following extensive backlash to the letter, multiple student groups that had originally signed onto the letter — among them Amnesty International at Harvard, Harvard College Act on a Dream, the Harvard Undergraduate Nepali Student Association — withdrew their signatures.

A spokesperson for Act on a Dream claimed that its board members were unaware that their organization had signed the letter and that it did not reflect their views on the conflict.

"As an organization, we want to express our empathy and solidarity for all the victims who have been affected by the violence in the region," AOD said in a statement.

While Harvard leadership released a statement denouncing Hamas' actions, former Harvard President Larry Summers argued that the statement was "delayed" and "fails to meet the needs of the moment."

"Why can't we find anything approaching the moral clarity of Harvard statements after George Floyd's death or Russia's invasion of Ukraine when terrorists kill, rape and take hostage hundreds of Israelis attending a music festival?" he tweeted.

"Why can't we give reassurance that the University stands squarely against Hamas terror to frightened students when 35 groups of their fellow students appear to be blaming all the violence on Israel?"

On Nov. 7, one month after the war between Israel and Hamas began, the OCR sent out a "Dear Colleague" letter to schools reminding them of their "federal legal obligations to ensure nondiscriminatory environments" in response to "an alarming rise in disturbing antisemitic incidents and threats to Jewish, Israeli, Muslim, Arab, and Palestinian students on college campuses and in P-12 schools."

"It is your legal obligation under Title VI to address prohibited discrimination against students and others on your campus — including those who are or are perceived to be Jewish, Israeli, Muslim, Arab, or Palestinian," continued the letter.

"All students, including students who are or are perceived to be Jewish, Israeli, Muslim, Arab, or Palestinian, as well as students who come from, or are perceived to come from, all regions of the world, are entitled to a school environment free from discrimination based on race, color, or national origin."

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