Muslim Civil Rights Org MLFA Who Filed Complaint Against Harvard Says Muslim and Palestinian Students’ Right to Protest Must Be Protected

02/28/24 Reposted from

Lead attorney Christina Jump tells AMT students were attacked, chased or called “terrorists” simply for wearing the traditional Palestinian keffiyeh scarf.

The Muslim Legal Fund of America (MLFA) filed a federal civil rights complaint with the Department of Education on behalf of Palestinian and Muslim students who were being harassed at Harvard University last month on January 29.

The complaint was filed on behalf of more than a dozen students, demanding an investigation into Harvard’s failure to protect these students from intimidation and threats.

Since the Israel-Palestine conflict began dominating headlines after October 7, students perceived as Palestinian, Muslim or Arab have reported widespread racist attacks, assaults, doxxing and stalking.

MLFA lead attorney, Christina Jump sat down with AMT to discuss the complaint and investigation.

How did MLFA become involved in filing this complaint against Harvard with the US Department of Education and what kind of harassment and discrimination were students experiencing?

What we saw is that they have been consistently refused support by Harvard. Harvard has either not acknowledged their claims, not spoken to them or followed up with them, or in some instances, specifically dismissed claims that they’ve tried to make through internal processes on the Harvard campus and in other situations.

I think the most consistent complaint that we received from the students and that we have raised to the Department of Education is that simply being seen on campus, wearing a keffiyeh, the traditional Palestinian scarf, has led to them, being chased or being called names, being called terrorists.

National and even international attention fell on many of these students after a joint statement was issued by Harvard’s Palestine Solidarity committee on the 7th of October — which stated Israel was solely responsible for unfolding violence and the Hamas attack didn’t happen in a vacuum — in your opinion did that statement amount to anti-Semitic hate speech and was this support for Hamas — designated a terrorist group by the US?

We are not representing any particular student group with this action with the Department of Education complaint that we filed. We are representing individual students here. And those individual students certainly have as much right as any other student as any Jewish student, as any Christian student. Any students can voice their opinions if they see fit, and still be safe.

I believe that with everything that has happened there and if we focus on the specific acts regarding the specific students that we represent, there’s more than enough there to justify the complaint that we filed and the Department of Education agrees that there’s more than enough there to warrant opening an investigation.

We know that the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights has opened two separate investigations — into Harvard’s former president Claudine Gay and into the institution for complaints of antisemitism — do you feel this shows a clear bias towards protecting the interests of one set of students over another?

We filed a complaint and the Department of Education very promptly opened its investigation. We look forward to working with the Office of Civil Rights as it pursues its investigation and moves forward to again do what Harvard did not and hear out these complaints by the students and actually investigate them. Point out that there’s corroborating evidence look into it find that it is justified and look for some long-term solutions other than just talking points that will help these students and others in the future.

There is of course a wider issue here — freedom of speech is being attacked across campuses — and we have seen that it is primarily Pro Palestinian groups that are being targeted — institutions like Columbia and Brandeis have banned groups like the Palestine Solidarity Committee. Is it legally defensible to argue that criticizing the state of Israel — which is clearly what these students are doing — is equivalent to hate speech or anti-semitic speech?

All students of any religion have the right to their free speech, they have the right to voice their opinions. And that free speech right may come into play with some of the allegations that we have, but not all. They have the right to express their own concerns. They have the right to challenge any political point of view, whether it be a US politician, an Israeli politician or any politician.

The fact that Jewish students also filed a complaint I think reinforces the issues that we’re raising here that Harvard simply failed to protect its minority students. It failed to take action. It failed to widely condemn any hate speech, any inappropriate actions or any targeting of students on its campus and within its buildings and classes where they are there to learn. Their learning process has been impeded and disrupted, if not, in some instances completely stopped.