LP & Winston File Amended Complaint Against SFSU, Bring New Claims of Systemic Discrimination Against Jewish and Israeli Students


Amended Complaint Against San Francisco State University Brings New Claims of Systemic Discrimination Against Jewish and Israeli Students

In the midst of deteriorating campus conditions for Jewish and Israeli students and stonewalling from the University administration, The Lawfare Project and Winston Strawn LLP file amended complaint with two new student plaintiffs, new claims under California’s Public Records Act

SAN FRANCISCO, CA—On Friday, attorneys for five student and two non-student plaintiffs at San Francisco State University (SFSU) filed an amended complaint against the school, alleging that SFSU has fostered a pervasively hostile, anti-Jewish environment, knowingly and intentionally discriminated against Jewish and Israeli students and community members, and failed to protect their civil rights and physical safety. The amended complaint introduces additional plaintiffs and claims under California’s Public Records Act, after the SFSU administration refused to release a report detailing the findings of an investigation they commissioned to look into one of the alleged acts of discrimination. The amended complaint also advances new claims alleging national origin discrimination under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 on behalf of three of the Plaintiffs, who are of Israeli national origin and/or ancestry.

The amended complaint contains details of a hostile learning environment, as experienced by plaintiff Shachar Ben-David, an undergraduate student at the time of the incidents referenced in the complaint. Ben-David’s classmate and General Union of Palestine Students (GUPS) president, Mohammad Hammad, wrote graphic and lurid Tumblr posts describing his desire to set children on fire, radicalize his classmates, join Palestinian terrorist organizations, and behead Israeli soldiers.

Ben-David is a former member of the Israeli Defense Forces. When Ben-David told her professor and members of the administration she feared for her safety and was unable to be in the same room as Hammad, they removed Ben-David from the classroom for an exam and offered her psychological counseling, rather than disciplining or removing Hammad. This failure to protect Ben-David is entirely consistent with remarks by SFSU President Leslie Wong, who has suggested that the physical safety of Jewish students on campus is nothing more than a “political issue.”

“Jewish students at San Francisco State University are afraid to publicly display their identities, and live in fear of systematic discrimination, harassment, and even death threats. If any other minority community faced similar treatment on campus, the University would be rightly outraged,” said Brooke Goldstein, Executive Director of The Lawfare Project.

The complaint also details how the SFSU Administration has continued to withhold the findings of an internally commissioned report that examines the decision to exclude the on-campus Hillel from participating in the “Know Your Rights” student fair, a central event in the lawsuit. The amended complaint therefore includes a claim under the California Public Records Act to force the university to turn over their records on the incident, consistent with its obligations under California law.

“SFSU should be acting to protect Jewish students from hostile threats and discrimination, rather than offering empty lip service to change and stonewalling discovery. SFSU is obliged to provide equal opportunities to all students, including Jews and Israeli nationals. We remain troubled by SFSU’s unwillingness to produce the investigatory report it commissioned on the decision to exclude Hillel from the ‘Know Your Rights’ student group fair, despite longstanding Public Records Act requests. The logical conclusion to be drawn is that the SFSU Administration does not want the investigatory report to see the light of day,” said Winston & Strawn LLP partner Lawrence Hill.

“Having had the opportunity to amend the complaint, include two new student plaintiffs, and additional new claims alleging violations of the California Public Records Act and Title VI national origin discrimination, we are very confident that this crucial case will proceed to the next phase of the litigation,” said Lawfare Project Director of Legal Affairs Amanda Berman. “These plaintiffs—and indeed, all students and community members—must be welcomed onto SF State’s campus just the same as any other individual of any other religion or national origin. The law, and human decency, demand nothing less.”

A copy of the complaint can be found here.


Amanda Berman
Director of Legal Affairs, The Lawfare Project
(212) 339-6995