College campus (illustrative)
College campus (illustrative)iStock

The U.S. Department of Education has opened an investigation into allegations that Jewish students at Brooklyn College have been subjected to “severe and persistent antisemitic harassment” from professors and students in what amounts to a “hostile environment” on campus.

According to the Louis D. Brandeis Center, a legal advocacy group that specializes in Jewish civil rights issues, which prepared the complaint on behalf of Jewish students in Brooklyn College’s Mental Health Counselling master’s program, the college has allowed the harassment to escalate in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The complaint “outlines how professors have maligned Jews on the basis of race and ethnic identity, advancing age-old antisemitic tropes concerning Jewish power, conspiracy and control, and endorsing the narrative that Jews are ‘white’ and privileged and therefore contribute to systemic oppression of people of color.”

The Brandeis Center said in its complaint that “by advancing the racist and ethnic stereotype that all Jews are ‘white’ and ‘privileged’ and therefore oppress people of color, faculty members, students and course assignments in the [Mental Health Counseling] program thereby invoke the classical antisemitic trope that Jews possess disproportionate power and influence in society, which they use for nefarious purposes against non-Jews, while also subjecting them to racial stereotypes about ‘whites.’”

They explained that the “severe and persistent harassment of Jewish students in the program on the basis of their race and ethnicity has created a hostile climate.”

In one instance, in a WhatsApp student chat group, a classmate spoke about strangling a Jewish student, which was met with support from other students.

“When another Jewish student came to the victim’s defense, the student who made the attack accused the Jewish student of being racist, claiming they were ‘part of the dominant culture’ of ‘white people’ who ‘continue to perpetuate power structures,’” the complain detailed.

“In this hostile environment, Jewish students are afraid that if they express their views in class or to their peers, they will be further disparaged and harassed by their professors and other students,” the Brandeis Center said. “Despite repeatedly being placed on notice of the developing hostile environment on Brooklyn College’s campus, the administration failed to take the measures necessary to provide Jewish students with a discrimination-free academic setting.”

“Fighting bigotry should not be a competition between minority groups; it’s not a zero sum game,” Brandeis Center director of legal initiatives Denise Katz-Prober said. “Yet, once again, in a university program for mental health professionals, Jews are told they must identify as white, are called privileged, and are accused of being oppressors."

She added: "This runs completely counter to Jewish history. It utterly ignores centuries of Jewish discrimination and murder, which we are frighteningly seeing resurface, and it promotes dangerous age-old antisemitic tropes concerning Jewish power, conspiracy and control. Training mental health professionals to oppose racism is a laudatory and important endeavor, but you can’t erase, let alone promote, antisemitism in the process.”