Investigation Launched by Federal Authorities into Israel-Hamas Demonstrations Disrupting Educational Institutions

Protests surrounding the Israel-Hamas war have disrupted the American education system since Oct. 7. College campuses in particular have experienced a surge in antisemitic and Islamophobic incidents.

Now, the federal government is taking action.

The Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights has launched seven investigations into allegations of antisemitic and anti-Muslim harassment at six colleges and one K-12 school district since the start of the war. These schools are accused of violating federal laws that prohibit discrimination or harassment based on shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics. Compliance with these laws is required in order to receive federal funding.

Six of the schools under investigation are colleges or universities, primarily located in urban areas of the northeast. Three of them belong to the Ivy League, a group of prestigious institutions that have faced significant criticism during the protests. The seventh school district is located in Maize, Kansas. Most of the schools have confirmed that they were recently notified of the investigations by the Education Department.

The Education Department’s involvement in and enthusiasm for these investigations reflects the growing pressure on government officials to address the widespread anguish and fear felt by many Jewish and Muslim Americans. The recent turmoil has generated anger directed at schools, which have the difficult task of educating students about complex issues while also ensuring their safety.

An Education Department spokesperson declined to provide further comment on the cases due to ongoing investigations.

During an appearance on ABC’s “The View,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona stated that the department has received more complaints related to antisemitic and anti-Muslim harassment in the past month than in the entirety of last year. He expressed a commitment to transparency regarding future investigations, highlighting that there will likely be many more cases.

What comes next?

Incidents of discrimination on campus are not new. Prior to the recent attacks by Hamas on Israel, the Education Department had already opened investigations into colleges and schools for incidents of antisemitism and Islamophobia.

For example, the University of Vermont had a resolved case involving alleged antisemitism. As a result, the institution had to update its equal opportunity and antiharassment policies, issue a statement condemning acts of discrimination, and conduct a survey to gauge the campus environment.

The duration and potential consequences of the seven new investigations remain uncertain.

Case 1: Cooper Union

The Education Department opened an investigation into Cooper Union, a private college in New York City, on Nov. 15. The school gained attention in late October when a video went viral, showing Jewish students gathered in a library while pro-Palestinian student protestors banged on the door.

While local politicians criticized the incident as harassment, the New York Police Department later stated that the Jewish students were not at risk during the protest. Cooper Union has not commented on the investigation so far.

Case 2: University of Pennsylvania

The Education Department also opened an investigation into the University of Pennsylvania on Nov. 15. The university has faced efforts to expose personal information (doxing) of some students and has experienced backlash from its wealthy alumni due to what they perceive as insufficient response to the war.

Former U.S. ambassador Jon Huntsman Jr., a major donor to the university, expressed concerns about the institution’s impartiality in an email to the school’s president. A junior student was also arrested for allegedly stealing an Israeli flag. The Brandeis Center, a Jewish civil rights organization, filed the complaint against the university. The school spokesperson stated that they received the notification of the federal investigation and will cooperate fully.

Case 3: Columbia University

Faculty and students at Columbia University have expressed outrage after administrators decided to cut funding to two anti-Zionist student groups. As a result, the university is now under investigation. A spokesperson for the university stated that recent protests by the student groups violated university policies. The university declined to comment further on the investigation.

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