A Columbia University senior says he was wrongly singled out and called an “antisemite” by a conservative group that has been driving a truck around campus displaying students’ names on a digital billboard in the wake of student protests about the Israel-Hamas war.
Yusuf Hafez, an Egyptian American engineering student, filed a lawsuit against Accuracy in Media on Monday, seeking unspecified damages and a court order to block the group from using his name and photograph.
The group has driven a truck displaying names and photos of students who it claims signed an open letter critical of Israel following the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas militants.
Hafez says he has “no association with the letter.” But on Oct. 25, the truck displayed his name and image and directed people to a website of his name labeling him one of “Columbia’s leading antisemites,” according to the lawsuit. He alleges Accuracy in Media created the site.
“Because of his fears and emotional and physical distress, [the] plaintiff has been unable to go back to the Columbia campus, has been forced to attend classes remotely, and is unable to engage in his community groups, or social interactions,” the lawsuit filed in Manhattan Supreme Court states.
Hafez’s lawsuit says he “is concerned that his academic career and future employment prospects are now at risk, as well as his safety, due to defendants’ unlawful, outrageous and defamatory conduct.”
The website is no longer online, but other Columbia students have been displayed on the truck in a similar fashion since it first appeared last month.
Neither Accuracy in Media nor Hafez’s attorney responded to requests for comment.
Hafez’s lawsuit appears to be the first legal action against Accuracy in Media over the truck’s presence at Columbia University and comes as tensions increase at the city’s only Ivy League school over Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza.
Hafez says Accuracy In Media and its President Adam Guillette got their attack all wrong. Accuracy in Media allegedly wrote that Hafez “had a leadership role” in a student group that signed onto the open letter titled “Oppression Breeds Resistance.”
“There can be no future of safety and freedom for all Israelis and Palestinians without holding the Israeli occupation accountable for its actions and putting an end to the untenable status quo of Israel’s apartheid and colonial system,” the letter reads.
Hafez says in the lawsuit he “had no involvement in any decision to sign or sign onto any letter.” He served as president of an Arab cultural student group called Turath, but says he left the role in May.
Accuracy In Media previously said in a statement the trucks were part of its “accountability campaign” on several university campuses. Guillette tweeted this week that his group was back in the city, “exposing campus antisemites.” He previously served as vice president of the far-right group Project Veritas, which is known for undercover investigations targeting progressives and mainstream media. Accuracy In Media was founded in 1969 to combat perceived liberal bias in the press, particularly in coverage of the Vietnam War.
About 1,200 people were killed during Hamas’ surprise attack on Oct. 7, according to the Israeli government. More than 11,000 people have been killed in Gaza since the war began.
The debate over the war at Columbia has grown so intense that the university has on several occasions shut its campus gates and only allowed people with student IDs to enter.
“The focus of the world, and of course the university, on the Palestine-Israel question [has] potentially divided students into supporters of Palestine, supporters of Israel, and divided students along that narrow political perspective,” said first-year student Nickolas Vaccaro.
Just last week, the university suspended its chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace for violating university protocol. In a statement, Gerald Rosberg, chair of the university’s Special Committee on Campus Safety, said the event was “unauthorized” and “included threatening rhetoric and intimidation.”