The federal Department of Education is investigating the University of Wisconsin-Madison over its alleged failure to protect Jewish students from harassment following the Hamas attack on Israel.
The Title XI complaint, filed by the Virginia-based conservative news outlet Campus Reform, alleges the university did not protect Jewish students during an Oct. 10 pro-Palestinian rally on campus.
Title XI was established as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It prohibits discrimination based on race.
Campus Reform has filed more than 20 similar complaints against campuses nationwide including Northwestern University, SUNY Binghamton University in New York and Arizona State University.
UW-Madison spokesperson John Lucas said the university condemns antisemitism in all forms and will fully cooperate with the investigation.
“The complaint against UW-Madison was not filed by a member of our community but instead by an outside organization that has filed complaints against several other institutions of higher education,” Lucas said.
Campus Reform’s editor Zachary Marschall filed the complaint. According to reporting by the outlet, the Oct. 10 pro-Palestinian rally on campus went viral after protesters were filmed chanting “glory to the martyrs.”
“‘Martyrs’ in this context are terrorists who were killed attempting to murder Jews and it is obvious that ‘by any means necessary’ includes brutality such as the murder, torture, and rape that occurred on Oct. 7,” Marschall wrote in the complaint.
Paul Finkelman, the Robert F. Boden visiting professor of law at Marquette University, said “glory to the Martyrs” is free speech.
“They have a right to call the people who died in the attack ‘martyrs,’” Finkelman said. “They’re not attacking any Jews, they’re not even attacking Israel.”
Finkelman, who served as president and chancellor of Gratz College, a private Jewish college in Pennsylvania from 2017-2022, said he agrees with the people who filed the lawsuit that it is outrageous to call the people who killed Israelis “martyrs.”
“But people are entitled to their opinions. Whether you like someone else’s opinion is completely irrelevant,” Finkelman said.
The Oct. 10 event went viral because it was misquoted by national media as protesters chanting “glory to the murderers.”
The claim was picked up by news outlets including Fox News and the New York Post, which ran with headlines that UW-Madison refused to “condemn pro-Hamas demonstrations chanting ‘Glory to the murders.’”
Since October, neither news organization has amended the misleading headlines.
Wisconsin Watch reported the protest leader’s actual call to action, debunking national headlines:
“It’s gonna be a call and response. When I say, ‘Glory to the martyrs,’ you say, ‘Glory to the resistance.’ When I say, ‘We will liberate the land,’ you say, ‘By any means necessary,’” a leader said to the crowd.
UW-Madison Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin sent an email to all students, faculty and staff Oct. 11, condemning the “vicious” acts of Hamas on Israel.
“I fear the terrifying inevitability of a great many further deaths, of Israelis and Palestinians, of civilians and soldiers,” Mnookin wrote. “I worry, too, that these devastating developments will fan the global flames of both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, making peace and justice in the region even more elusive.”
Since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack that killed 1,139 Israelis, more than 27,000 Palestinians have been killed and more than 66,000 wounded in Israeli attacks on Gaza, according to reporting from Al Jazeera.
There have been a string of antisemitic and Islamophobic incidents reported on college campuses since the start of the Israel-Hamas war in October.
On Jan. 21, a swastika was projected on the outside of a UW-Whitewater dorm.
Footage posted on Facebook showed four people dressed in red and black, bellowing: “We are everywhere. There will be blood, blood, blood” and saying a comment about “white men.”
Marschall, who is Jewish, wrote an editorial in the Washington Examiner on Jan. 30. He said the beginning of the end is here for “unaccountable, radical campus indoctrination.”
“Universities across the country are desperately trying to save face after their failure to respond adequately to antisemitic rhetoric and harassment on their campuses following the Oct. 7 terrorist attack on Israel. And now, even the federal government is taking action,” he wrote.