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This Student is Suing Harvard for It’s Discrimination Against Jews

Harvard’s population of Jewish students has gone from 25% to 5% in the last several years and not enough people are talking about it. “It’s not because Jews got dumber over time,” Shabbos Kestenbaum says.

Kestenbaum is a Harvard grad student suing the university for failing to uphold federal law under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. It states: No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.

Kestenbaum explains that as a student of Harvard, he’s promised two things — to have an educational experience and to be protected as a student engaged in that experience. Harvard has failed at both. “I have been targeted for my Jewish faith,” he says. 

He just testified before Congress last week with eight other students to explain the antisemitism they’ve been subjected to as of late. Fortunately, Congress is on the side of the Jewish students. Both Democrats and Republicans have united on the issue and are ready to hold Harvard and other major universities for their actions, or really lack thereof.

They are willing to withhold the federal tax dollars these universities receive, since it is apparent they’re using them to promote antisemitism.  “It was two hours of students expressing the most heartbreaking, heart wrenching testimony of being persecuted with basic, objective Jew hatred,” he shares. 

The discrimination started way before October 7 as is clear with the dropping number of Jews admitted. When Kestenbaum just started school there — the first week he was at Harvard — well before October 7, the student body invited Mohammed El-Kurd, a “vicious antisemite” according to the Anti-Defamation League. He is someone who claims Jews eat the organs of Palestinians and that the Israeli “occupying forces” have internalized the ways of Nazi Germany. “People might know him as the one who lamented that you can’t hijack planes anymore,” Kestenbaum notes.

He says this is particularly important to highlight because Harvard has a track record of disciplining speech they don’t like. “They protect minorities, the only exception being Jews,” he says. “[El-Kurd] is someone who actively spews antisemitism, belittles and threatens the safety of Jews and [when approached], we were met with shrugs. The double standards were quickly apparent and very readily felt.”

Kestenbaum says his entire educational experience has been impacted, even more forcefully after October 7. On the same night the attack occurred, while things were still going on, 34 student groups representing hundreds of Harvard students jumped out of their beds, some even in pajamas, to blame Jews for the largest massacre since the Holocaust. 

“Harvard didn’t even condemn these students,” Kestenbaum says. “It took them a while to even condemn Hamas. We had student protestors yelling ‘Globalize the Intifada.’ They illegally disrupt classrooms, take over university buildings and post antisemitic cartoons. This isn’t just the students either. This includes faculty members. The fact that this happens at Harvard which is the next generation of American leaders and policy makers is so concerning. If this is the future of America then we are in deep, deep trouble. You don’t have to be Jewish to recognize that.”

Kestenbaum is a first-generation American. His parents immigrated from London and were so grateful to be able to build a new life. He says he was raised with a profound sense of appreciation for the country and Jewish and American values were equally a part of his upbringing. He never saw them as contradictions. 

He decided to pursue teaching and has been working in Jewish high schools and for organizations like Olami and NCSY before deciding to go to Harvard to pursue religion from an academic perspective, while providing the Jewish perspective in a secular environment. 

He says his educational experience has been interrupted, to say the least. Mobs of students will stand in the library wearing keffiyas and yelling genocide so he just won’t go to the library on those days. A horrific antisemitic cartoon was promoted by more than 120 faculty and staff members just two weeks ago. While Harvard eventually condemned it, no action against those individuals was taken. “These are professors and faculty that I walk past in the hallways, some of them I’ve taken their classes and there’s been no accountability or discipline and it’s such an obvious double standard.”

A Harvard employee challenged Kestenbaum to a debate on whether Jews were involved in 9/11 or not. Later that day, that employee posted a video on social media waving a machete with a photo of Kestenbaum’s face on it. “I had private security outside my house for three days,” he says. Kestenbaum continues to receive death threats weekly.

The goal of the lawsuit is to hold Harvard accountable. Kestenbaum has tried to work with them directly but there has been no response to his 40+ emails about the distress and horrific antisemitism and no agreement to sit down and work together to rectify this very serious issue. “If you’re screaming at the top of your lungs and no one is listening, you have to resort to radical means.”

An ideal outcome would ensure Harvard protects and cares for Jews on their campus the same way every other student is protected. He wants answers about the tens of millions of dollars they’ve accepted from Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Lebanon. “What are the strings attached to those donations?” 

He wants tuition reimbursement and compensation for the emotional damage and distress. “I am not paying tuition dollars to support an institution who stabs its Jews in the back,” he explains. “Having private armed security outside my house for three days is not a normal action. That is a clear sign that things have gotten really, really bad.”

No matter what, Kestenbaum is not backing down. “I’m not going to be penalized for other people’s bigotry,” he explains. “I’m going to continue to wear my kippah and be an advocate for myself and other Jews across college campuses. I am aware there is a level of danger to this but I’m not going to change. I’ve done nothing wrong and have nothing to apologize for. I’ve actually bought a larger kippah since October 7 and I’m very proud to be wearing it.”

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