By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK (Reuters) -New York University (NYU) was sued on Tuesday by three Jewish students who accused the school of creating a hostile environment in which Jewish students are subjected to pervasive antisemitic hatred, discrimination, harassment and intimidation.
Bella Ingber, Sabrina Maslavi and Saul Tawil said NYU has refused to enforce anti-discrimination policies that it "readily applies" to protect other targets of bigotry, including by allowing chants such as "gas the Jews" and "Hitler was right."
In a complaint filed in Manhattan federal court, the plaintiffs, all juniors, said antisemitism had been a "growing institutional problem" at NYU even before the war between Israel and Hamas began last month, and has since gotten worse.
They also said Jewish students' complaints are "ignored, slow-walked, or met with gaslighting" by NYU administrators including Linda Mills, who became president in July.
According to the complaint, Mills this month dismissed a petition from 4,000 NYU members expressing concern about antisemitism, saying the problem had been blown "out of proportion" and chiding Jewish students as "alarmist."
Tensions between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian groups have grown on many college campuses since Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7.
John Beckman, an NYU spokesman, said the university takes antisemitism and other forms of hate "extremely seriously," and was among the first American universities to condemn Hamas' attack.
"NYU looks forward to setting the record straight, to challenging this lawsuit's one-sided narrative, to making clear the many efforts NYU has made to combat antisemitism and provide a safe environment for Jewish students and non-Jewish students, and to prevailing in court," Beckman said in a statement.
Tuesday's lawsuit accuses NYU of violating federal civil rights law and breaching its duties to provide the education the plaintiffs expected.
It seeks to require that NYU terminate employees and suspend or expel students responsible for antisemitic abuse, and pay compensatory and punitive damages.
NYU says it has more than 65,000 students across 20 schools and colleges, and "takes seriously its role as an engine of social mobility."
According to the complaint, however, antisemitic conduct has taken firm root at the university, where Ingber and Tawil enrolled in 2021 and Maslavi enrolled two months ago.
In one instance, Ingber and Maslavi said that while attending an Oct. 17 silent vigil supporting Israel, they saw nearby faculty and student members of on-campus pro-Palestinian groups burn an Israeli flag, make "slit-your-throat" gestures toward Jewish students and scream epithets.
Tawil said NYU gave him the runaround when he sought help after being harassed on the street following the vigil, with a campus safety official saying security had already been beefed up following a surge in anti-Asian violence in 2021 and 2022.
"NYU's deliberate indifference toward the plight of its Jewish students under siege by egregious antisemitism has been outrageous," Marc Kasowitz, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in a statement.
The case is Ingber et al v New York University, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 23-10023.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Chris Reese)