Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Vivamus convallis sem tellus, vitae egestas felis vestibule ut.

Error message details.

Reuse Permissions

Request permission to republish or redistribute SHRM content and materials.

Harvard Accused of Failing to Protect Palestinian Students from Harassment

Muslim students walking on college campus

The U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights recently opened an investigation into a complaint accusing Harvard University of failing to protect Palestinian, Muslim, and Arab students and their supporters from harassment, threats and intimidation, according to a report by The New York Times.

The Muslim Legal Fund of America (MLFA), which filed a civil-rights complaint that led to the investigation, alleged that more than a dozen students had faced harassment that included threats and being called “terrorists” for wearing keffiyehs, a Palestinian scarf, the Times report indicated.

“Instead of providing protection or resources, Harvard responded to the students’ requests for help with closed doors, and in some cases threats—by those in positions of power—to limit or retract the students’ future academic opportunities,” the MLFA said in a press release.

The press release included a firsthand account from a Palestinian student involved in the complaint, who said many Muslim and Arab students have been chased, spat at, and stalked on campus “and even at our families’ homes.”

“On top of worrying about my family’s safety in Palestine, I’m living in fear of being attacked while walking to class,” the student said. “No student should have to live like this.”

In a response to the accusations, Harvard told The Times that it supported the work of the Education Department “to ensure students’ rights to access educational programs are safeguarded and will work with the office to address their questions.”

Harvard has been embroiled in controversy since the Israel-Hamas war began. Claudine Gay, the school’s former president, stepped down in light of accusations of antisemitism and plagiarism. In a separate case, the Education Department opened an investigation into Harvard over complaints of antisemitism.

On Feb. 16, a congressional committee said that it would serve subpoenas on Harvard in the investigation into whether the university tolerated antisemitism on its campus. The committee has also started investigations into Columbia, M.I.T. and the University of Pennsylvania.

EEOC Releases Guidance to Reduce Discrimination Against Muslim, Jewish Workers

Shortly after the MLFA filed its complaint, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released an infographic to remind companies that workplace discrimination against Arab, Muslim and Jewish employees violates federal law.

The fact sheet includes information about the illegality of:

  • Treating an employee adversely based on the assumption that the individual holds certain views because of their religion, national origin or race.
  • Forcing someone to abandon, alter or adopt a religious practice as a condition of employment.
  • Segregating an employee from a customer-facing position due to their religious or ethnic dress, including a hijab, yarmulke or turban.
  • Sharing certain symbols of violence or hatred, such as a swastika, toward individuals with the same protected characteristics.
  • Failing to reasonably grant an employee’s religious accommodations, such as time off for an observance or another religious practice, as long as the request doesn’t cause an undue hardship for the employer.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion, national origin and race in all aspects of employment—including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoffs, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment.

Stephen Paskoff, a former EEOC litigator, said that political conflict can frequently lead to hostile workplace cultures that result in improper, divisive and illegal employment acts by leaders, organizations themselves and employees.

“As we read about the Israel-Hamas conflict,” he explained, “it's sadly not surprising that it's leading to conflict and actions in workplaces globally that can lead to the range of illegal behaviors and discriminatory actions—likely causing the EEOC to issue these specific reminders and guidelines.”

Discrimination against Jewish and Muslim individuals has skyrocketed since the Israel-Hamas war began, with many incidents of antisemitism and Islamophobia occurring at religious institutions, K-12 schools and college campuses.

What HR Should Consider

Paskoff explained that organizations must use the EEOC’s recent guidelines to remind leaders and team members of the agency’s messages, linking back to their own mission, vision, values, standards and day-to-day expectations.

“There should be organizationwide levels of communication regarding these issues, framed not in just the context of the law but also in the context that such behavior—whether technically illegal or not—is not acceptable and will not be tolerated,” he said.

It's important that leaders at all levels clearly and consistently relay the EEOC’s messages and repeat them in workday meetings, Paskoff added. Posting the infographic in the office would be useful, he said, but that is not enough to prevent illegal workplace conduct.

“This kind of behavior will only be reduced if those who are aware of it see anti-discrimination efforts as a necessary operational, organizational values-based commitment as a matter of organizational necessity,” Paskoff said. “Speaking up is vital to combatting systemic discrimination, and appropriate actions must be taken based on the conduct involved.”


​An organization run by AI is not a futuristic concept. Such technology is already a part of many workplaces and will continue to shape the labor market and HR. Here's how employers and employees can successfully manage generative AI and other AI-powered systems.