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University of Pennsylvania faces lawsuit for allegedly fostering environment of antisemitism on campus

By Josh Sanders

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    PHILADELPHIA (KYW) — Days before the University of Pennsylvania’s 268th commencement ceremony last May, graduating senior Eyal Yakoby walked through campus with a heavy heart.

“People say graduation should be bittersweet,” Yakoby said. “It’s just bitter at this point.”

In the wake of the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack on Israel, Yakoby, who is Jewish, is one of several students suing Penn alleging the university has failed to sufficiently respond to antisemitism on campus and has violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“In the aftermath, we had a number of Jewish families, both students at Ivy League and other universities, and their parents who came to us to say that the atmosphere on campus was hostile and frightening and threatening to their kids,” Marc Kasowitz, with Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP, said.

Kasowitz’s firm represents Yakoby and other plaintiffs. The firm also has pending lawsuits against Columbia University, New York University and Harvard University.

“The universities have permitted environments where antisemitism has been commonly accepted for years,” Kasowitz said.

The Penn complaint suggests a history of antisemitism on campus since 2015. One alleged example occurred last September when the university hosted the “Palestine Writes Literature Festival.”

Then-university President Liz Magill and Penn leadership faced immediate backlash from high-profile donors due to the speakers at the festival.

More than two dozen of the speakers were accused by the Anti-Defamation League of making antisemitic statements.

Last November, in response to alleged antisemitism on campus, Penn officials established a University Task Force on Antisemitism and a Presidential Commission on Countering Hate and Building Community.

In December, Magill provided testimony in front of a House Committee regarding her administration’s response to alleged antisemitism on campus.

Magill resigned following continued criticism and falling short of saying whether calling for the genocide of Jews was in violation of Penn’s Code of Conduct on Bullying or Harassment.

It was not until May 20, the same day Yakoby and his classmates graduated and six months after the task force was formed, that final recommendations were released.

The task force recommended Penn increase its efforts to promote Jewish and cross-cultural studies and clearly express its opposition to calls to divest against Israel.

CBS Philadelphia has made several attempts to interview interim Penn president Dr. J. Larry Jameson and university officials regarding the complaint and task force recommendations. A university spokesperson declined to comment.

In court filings, Penn lawyers responded to the complaint and said they “condemn antisemitism, emphatically, and unconditionally.” The response states although plaintiffs like Yakoby may disagree with Penn’s response, “this lawsuit is not the right vehicle for their grievances.”

“My hope for Penn is that they find their North Star. Is that their moral compass, courage are restored to Penn,” Yakoby said.

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