Shocking allegations of antisemitic assault, discrimination, and harassment at American University in Washington DC were unveiled on Wednesday in a new complaint filed with the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights by the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law and Jewish on Campus.
According to the complaint, pro-Hamas supporters spat on a Jewish Israeli student, someone graffitied swastikas in dorms for first-year students, and four Jewish students were charged with student conduct violations for recording video footage of pro-Hamas agitators tearing down missing persons posters of Israelis who were taken hostage by the Palestinian terrorist group on Oct. 7.
Shared with The Algemeiner on Wednesday, the complaint alleges egregious violations of Title VI of the US Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination in programs and activities that receive federal funding. The document begins with a summary of incidents experienced by Tomer Ben-Enzer, a music and computer science major who, in addition to managing a rigorous course load, works two jobs as a teacher’s assistant and piano tutor to put himself through school. He is a Jewish Israeli American.
Ben-Enzer lost family and friends during Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel and has since then participated in events held to commemorate their lives. After leaving one such event held on campus, pro-Hamas protesters who saw him wearing an Israeli flag shouted “Zionist pig” at him. Two others riding on scooters with their faces concealed by keffiyehs — traditional headscarves worn in the Middle East that have become symbols of solidarity with the Palestinians against Israel — and N95 masks spat on him.
According to the complaint, although Ben-Enzer reported the incident to campus authorities and filed an additional complaint with the school’s Title IX office, which handles all reports of alleged discrimination, the university never responded to him, forcing him, at the advice of his mother, to avoid further harm by concealing his Star of David. Despite doing so, the spitting incidents continued, happening four more times. He was also called a “Zionist killer.”
Ben-Enzer allegedly had no recourse until the occurrence of an incident that was reported by The Eagle, American University’s campus newspaper, in November. He and other musicians had organized a recital, scheduled to take place on Dec. 10, and had posted around campus advertisements promoting the event. Someone later vandalized the advertisements, writing “Death to the Zionists Hitler was right” and drawing a swastika on them. American University refused to commence an investigation of the vandalisms, the Brandeis Center alleges, and two FBI officers dressed as civilians attended the recital to protect Ben-Enzer and his guests from violence.
“That the FBI needed to be called in demonstrates the level of physical threat to which [Ben-Enzer] was subjected. The situation on campus for Jews like [him] has deteriorated to such a degree because AU has long been derelict in its duty of care and protection of Jewish students on campus,” the complaint says.
“The university’s response to the incidents targeting [Ben-Enzer] has been wholly inadequate. It took the administration five days to contact [Ben-Enzer] after the vandalism incident, and even then, only one dean emailed him, nearly a week after the event, to inquire about his well being,” the document continues. “This was only after [Ben-Enzer] notified his professors that the administration had not offered him any support. AU’s failure to investigate the spitting incident [he] reported left the student feeling abandoned by the university and demonstrated the university’s lack of care and concern.”
The Algemeiner received permission to use Ben-Enzer’s name, which is redacted from the complaint where he’s described anonymously.
American University has ignored other antisemitic incidents on campus, according to the allegations. After Oct. 7, swastikas were graffitied three times in the first-year dormitory Letts Hall, as well as in a bathroom and on the doors of the residences of two Jewish students. A fourth vandalism was aborted when the student being targeted opened their door, causing the perpetrator to flee. One student whose door was vandalized was contacted by a person assumed to be involved in the incident in a text message that read, “I know who you are, Jew.”
The Brandeis Center added that 2023 was the third year in a row that swastika graffiti appeared on campus. In 2021 and 2022 the Nazi symbol was graffitied in bathrooms during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, two of the holiest holidays in the Jewish religion. The civil rights organization alleges that American University never launched a serious investigation of the incidents, essentially enabling the behavior.
One of the last examples of alleged civil rights violations cited in the complaint touches on an issue that has received ample media attention in the months following the atrocities of Oct. 7: tearing down missing persons posters of Israelis who were taken hostage by Hamas. At American University, tearing down posters of any kind constitutes a violation of the student code of conduct. However, the Brandies Center alleges, the school’s administration did nothing when pro-Hamas supporters tore down missing posters of Israelis. It did, however, file disciplinary charges against Jewish students who recorded them committing the act.
“By turning the situation on its head and treating the perpetrators as the victims, the university demonstrated a disregard for the facts, held its Jewish and Israeli students to a double standard, enforced its own code of conduct in a discriminatory fashion, and retaliated against Jewish students for attempting to engage in the legally protected activity of attempting to protect their civil rights,” the complaint says.
The Brandies Center went on to describe numerous other incidents of alleged discrimination and bullying in the classroom. It is asking the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights to conduct a thorough investigation of its claims and has, in the interim, asked American University to suspend disciplinary proceedings against the Jewish students who filmed the vandalisms of missing persons posters, review its processes for investigating antisemitism, and begin compensating Ben-Enzer for lost wages and emotional suffering he has endured as a result of the treatment to which he was allegedly subjected during the fall semester.
American University did not respond to a request for comment for this story and has not yet responded publicly to the allegations, which are among the most damaging lodged against a US university since Oct. 7.
“Jewish students deserve consistent support from their university administrators, not harassment for standing up against antisemitism,” Jewish on Campus founder and CEO Julia Jassey said in a statement on Wednesday. “We urge a swift investigation and a campus climate where no student has to endure such harassment.”