Legal complaint filed against George Washington University over 'anti-Palestinian environment'

Legal complaint filed against George Washington University over 'anti-Palestinian environment'
3 min read
Washington, D.C.
24 February, 2023
A Palestinian rights group has filed a legal complaint against a US university, saying that Palestinian students have endured years of a hostile environment, citing multiple incidents of alleged discrimination.
George Washington University [Brooke Anderson/The New Arab]

A US-based Palestinian rights group has filed a legal complaint against a US university that it claims has been allowing for an anti-Palestinian environment to exist on campus.

The complaint, filed by Palestine Legal, alleges that Palestinian students at George Washington University in Washington DC have for years been denied services and have been subjected to unfair treatment due to their backgrounds.

It was filed last week as a Title VI federal civil rights complaint with the Department of Education. Palestine legal is representing three GW students who have claimed discrimination based on their Palestinian backgrounds. 

"We filed a Title VI complaint with the Department of Education because the [GW] administration has allowed for anti-Palestinian discrimination to happen on campus without doing anything, and not making the campus a safe place for Palestinians, like students of other identities," Dylan Saba, a staff attorney at Palestine Legal, told The New Arab.

Title VI is a federal law the forbids an organisation that receives federal funding to engage in discrimination based on race or national origin. Attorneys at Palestine Legal have pointed to several examples that they say fit a pattern of discrimination of Palestinian students at GW, which they noted in the complaint.

In one instance, the complaint notes that the university cancelled a mental health processing service for Palestinian students after Hillel - a pro-Israel campus group - complained, resulting in the denial of services to a Palestinian student who had been wounded by an Israeli soldier at a checkpoint in the West Bank.

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In another instance, the complaint says that a professor was harassed by some of her students after hosting a Palestinian guest speaker.

And in another case, they say that a Palestinian student with Students for Justice in Palestine was falsely accused of vandalism. He was later cleared, but the complaint describes a situation in which he was targeted because of his affiliation. 

"Pro-Palestinian political expression is not anti-Semitic," said Saba. "This is super harmful. It doesn't make anyone safer. That's why we filed a Title VI complaint. They have allowed for anti-Palestinian discrimination to foster on campus. It's not a good place to be Palestinian."

When The New Arab reached out to GW for comment on the matter, an employee responded by saying that they haven't seen the complaint in question (which was sent to the Department of Education and will then be shared with the university), but GW shared a general statement.

"The university has not seen the complaint referenced. The George Washington University strongly condemns hatred, discrimination and bias in all forms, and we are committed to fostering an environment in which the entire community feels safe and free of harassment, hostility or marginalization," Julia Metjian, assistant director of media relations at GW, wrote in an email to The New Arab.

Saba said that the legal filing hasn't been made public to protect the privacy of the students, who are concerned over backlash from the case.