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Civil rights complaint claims Ohio State failed to deal with anti-Semitism

Ohio State Wexner Jewish Student Center
An Israeli flag.

Three Jewish defense organizations filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights against Ohio State University, alleging the university has fostered “a hostile antisemitic environment that is now pervasive.”

The complaint, filed by StandWithUs, the Anti-Defamation League and the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, alleged that since the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on Israelis, Jewish students at Ohio State have faced incidents including verbal taunts and threats, graffiti in classrooms, removal of posters and photos of captured Israelis and physical assault.

This is not the first time complaints of this nature have been brought against Ohio State. In January, WOSU reported about a separate complaint that the Office of Civil Rights was investigating alleging Ohio State failed to respond to anti-Semitic acts on campus. The Lantern, Ohio State's student newspaper, reported that an Ohio State parent submitted the complaint alleging the university failed to respond to “incidents of harassment” based on “shared Jewish ancestry” in the fall 2023 semester.

The new complaint, filed Tuesday, said the university’s failure to meaningfully address the incidents violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“Since October 7, Jewish students on campuses nationwide have faced unprecedented antisemitic harassment and discrimination,” Roz Rothstein, the StandWithUs CEO, said in a statement.

“Ohio State University is no exception," Rothstein said. "Antisemitism is expressed openly; blatant verbal and physical threats and attacks on Jewish students often go unaddressed by the administration. By filing this Title VI federal complaint, we aim to hold the administration accountable.”

Kenneth L. Marcus, chairman of the Brandeis Center and the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights, said in the statement that schools must act immediately to address incidents and hold violators accountable.

“Unfortunately schools like Ohio State that continue to sweep incidents under the rug are getting worse by the day,” Marcus said. “The problem cannot be ignored.”

Jonathan Greenblatt, the Anti-Defamation League’s CEO, said in the statement: “We believe all the evidence shows that despite a pattern of escalating harassment and intimidation, Ohio State University administrators, faculty and staff repeatedly failed in their duty to protect Jewish and Israeli students from such attacks.”

“We urge the U.S. Department of Education to investigate these incidents and compel the university to take immediate action to address the pervasively hostile environment for Jewish and Israelis on OSU’s campus,” Greenblatt said.

The complaint includes these incidents:

• In early November, a group of five Jewish students walking to an OSU sorority house were accosted by two men who shouted, “Free Palestine.” One of them saw that a person in the group was wearing a Hebrew-lettering Chai necklace and used a slur referring to him. The two men punched two students, breaking one’s jaw and the other’s nose.
 
• On Dec. 9, a Jewish student wearing a sweatshirt bearing the words “Am Yisrael Chai” in the shape of a Jewish star was confronted by another student who told him to take off the shirt, using a profanity.

• On Jan. 26, a Jewish student living in off-campus housing found that their mezuzah (a symbol of Jewish identity) had been torn from their doorpost and thrown on the ground.

• On Feb. 2, Jewish students eating Shabbat dinner at the campus Hillel were interrupted by students banging on the windows and shouting, “Free Palestine.”

• On Feb. 15, Jewish students at the Ohio Union were trying to gather signatures on a petition against anti-Semitism. A man confronted them saying he would not sign because he wants to “kill Jews.” The following day, someone stole an Israeli flag from the Ohio Union after a multi-cultural event and flashed a “white power” sign and harassed Jewish students.
 
• On Feb. 23, a Jewish student’s dorm room door was vandalized with graffiti reading, “Free Palestine.”
 
The complaint asks the Office of Civil Rights to force OSU’s administration to enact measures that will provide safety to Jewish and Israeli students, including a public statement “condemning antisemitic hostility on campus and devoting more resources and increasing security measures to deter future attacks.”

In an email, Ohio State spokesman Ben Johnson said: "Ohio State has never – and will never – tolerate discrimination or harassment of anyone based on their religious beliefs, nationality or identity."

On Feb. 29, Melissa Shivers, Ohio State Vice President for Student Life, and Keesha Mitchell, Associate Vice President for the Office of Institutional Equity, wrote a letter to StandWithUs after the group wrote OSU with concerns.

"Through both our words and, importantly, our actions, we continually reaffirm and communicate messaging focused on our expectations regarding an environment of respect and compassion during this extraordinarily difficult time for many on our campuses," the letter said. "It is very disappointing that your letter to us does not accurately represent what has occurred at Ohio State or the university’s strong and ongoing response."

The letter said that when the Hamas attacks occurred, Ohio State mobilized leadership and staff to address concerns regarding health, safety and well-being.

It said police and security have worked to add more of a visible presence, and that university leadership has met with Hillel and Chabad staff and leaders to discuss security enhancements.

It also mentioned that Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein filed misdemeanor charges against two people who allegedly vandalized Hillel in November.

Shivers and Mitchell also cite OSU President Walter "Ted" Carter Jr.'s introductory letter Jan. 8 that said he is committed to "continually exploring ways in which we can enhance the safety and security of our community."

"We also will remain focused on creating an environment in which respect, civility and compassion are forefront while continuing Ohio State’s long-standing commitment to the First Amendment and upholding the laws of our state and country," Carter wrote then.