Jewish Students and the Protction of Anti - Discrimination Law

May 3 2012
In October 2010, the U.S. Department of Education announced that Jewish students would now be protected by federal anti-discrimination law, Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Incredibly, at its annual plenum in Detroit, on May 5, 2012, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, which represents many of the establishment American Jewish organizations including the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee and the many Jewish Community Relations Councils, will vote on whether Jews should have to meet higher standards than other groups in order to make out a claim under Title VI.

The National Conference on Jewish Affairs, a new umbrella group of Jewish organizations which sees Jewish issues as its central focus, has issued its own position statement regarding the use of Title VI to combat anti-Semitism, in advance of the JCPA plenum.

“We believe it is the spines of those who claim to represent American Jews that must be stiffened, and not the pre-requisite standards allowing Jews use of Title VI,” said Lori Lowenthal Marcus, NCJA executive committee chair.

The NCJA is just as concerned with First Amendment rights and academic freedom as are the older American Jewish organizations. Indeed, Marcus is a Harvard-educated lawyer who practiced and taught First Amendment law for years. “To suggest, as the JCPA has done, that Jews are more likely than other groups to assert frivolous Title VI claims, or that the aura of First Amendment or academic freedom impedes Jews, and only Jews, from seeking redress, is a double-standard which can only harm Jewish students,” said Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, who chairs the NCJA Task Force on Academia and Campus Life, and who co-authored NCJA’s Statement on Campus Anti-Semitism and Title VI.

In June 2009 Rossman-Benjamin, a lecturer at University of California Santa Cruz, filed a Title VI complaint against her university, claiming that some faculty and administrators had abused their positions and university resources in order to promote hatred of the Jewish state and its supporters, which in turn had created an intellectually and emotionally hostile environment for Jewish students. According to Rossman-Benjamin, “it is irresponsible for the leaders of major Jewish organizations to promote a stricter standard for Jews to meet than for non-Jews in order to seek redress under Title VI.”


National Conference on Jewish Affairs Statement on Campus Anti-Semitism and Title VI
Thursday, 03 May 2012 14:57

As an umbrella organization of Jewish leaders, we are pleased but not satisfied that most U.S. college students report that they neither experience nor witness anti-Semitism throughout their college careers. Indeed, the fact that the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR) has observed that campus anti-Semitism is a “serious problem” requiring significant attention is alarming.1 Jewish students have reported feeling physically unsafe, emotionally and intellectually harassed and intimidated by peers and professors, isolated from their fellow students, and unfairly treated by faculty and administrators. As a result of their experience of campus anti-Semitism, some Jewish students have even reported leaving the university, dropping classes, changing fields of study, avoiding certain parts of campus, and hiding symbols of their Jewishness.2

According to one recent study, over 40% of U.S. college students report having experienced or witnessed anti-Semitism on their campus.3 This is intolerable and requires a response from those of us who abhor discrimination in any form, but especially by those of us who are publicly committed to serving as leaders in and of the American Jewish community.

Some history is in order:

In 2004 the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights (OCR) issued a landmark statement4 determining that OCR will, for the first time in its history, prosecute certain anti-Semitism cases under Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and in 2010 that statement was reaffirmed5. We happily acknowledge that the current Administration's decision to clarify this policy was the direct result of the cooperative efforts of over a dozen Jewish organizations, representing a wide spectrum of Jewish American opinion. We note that the organized Jewish community, while divided on most substantive issues, has been remarkably united on this one until now. We applaud that former unity and the results it accomplished. We firmly believe it is essential for OCR to vigorously enforce Title VI for Jewish students.
In 2006 the USCCR reported finding a strong relationship between anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism on some college campuses.6 Significantly, the "working definition of anti-Semitism" of the European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC), which identifies as anti-Semitic certain language or behavior that demonizes and delegitimizes Israel or attacks Israel with classic anti-Semitic stereotypes, has been adopted by the U.S. State Department7 and USCCR.

Indeed, in 2010 a group of ten scholars working under the auspices of the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, published a statement endorsing the EUMC working definition of anti-Semitism and highlighting its importance in identifying and addressing incidents of anti-Semitic behavior in higher education in America.8 Finally, we note that Cary Nelson, the President of the American Association of University Professors, recognized that this definition provides a useful guide for identifying anti-Semitism.

We observe and wholeheartedly support the Jewish community’s united belief that Title VI enforcement should be undertaken within the parameters of the First Amendment and the doctrine of academic freedom. However, we emphasize our concerns about the selective, abusive, opportunistic, pretextual, and frequently inaccurate assertions of freedom of speech and academic freedom, and note that these are often used as an excuse by administrators who prefer not to take responsibility for morally necessary but politically controversial measures. While much campus speech is protected legally or by the academic freedom doctrine, the correct response to a hostile environment is never to do nothing. Even in the event of constitutionally protected anti-Semitic activity, university administrators have a host of legally permissible options, including following the USCCR's recommendation that "University leadership should set a moral example"9 and denounce anti-Semitic and other hate speech.

We recognize the importance of having the Jewish community united against campus anti-Semitism if such efforts are to be successful. We observe the danger of the public perception of Jewish divisiveness on this issue, and we criticize efforts of some Jewish organizations to sow dissension through public statements which make vague, unsupported insinuations against those who are most actively engaged in efforts to combat campus anti-Semitism.

We emphasize that there is no basis for assuming, as these Jewish organizations suggest, that Jews are more likely than other groups to assert frivolous Title VI claims, and we note that this unfortunate insinuation is resonant of historical and hysterical stereotypes about Jewish greediness, dishonesty and power-hunger. Such statements undermine civil discourse and set a poor example for responsible dialogue. We resolve that Jewish communal organizations should educate themselves more fully about the nature and extent of current campus anti-Semitism. We believe that if they do, they will join us in our RESOLUTION THAT IT IS ESSENTIAL FOR THE OCR TO VIGOROUSLY EMPLOY AND ENFORCE TITLE VI AS A MEANS OF COMBATING ANTI-SEMITISM.

We encourage all members of the American public to share observations of campus anti-Semitism with the NCJA’s Academia and Campus Life Task Force, [email protected] , and we urge Jewish leaders to cooperate with groups, such as the Investigative Taskforce on Campus Antisemitism, the Orange County Independent Task Force on Anti-Semitism, and Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, which are actively investigating incidents of campus anti-Semitism. We urge Jewish leaders to cooperate, in serious cases, with organizations like the Louis D. Brandeis Center and the ZOA Center for Law & Justice, which have been established to combat campus anti-Semitism through legal means.

Finally, we FURTHER ENCOURAGE Jewish leaders and university leaders to speak out, clearly, specifically, and firmly against campus anti-Semitism, both as a general matter and in response to particular incidents as they arise.

2 Tobin, Gary A., Weinberg, Aryeh K., and Ferer, Jenna, The Uncivil University: Intolerance on College Campuses, Revised Edition. New York: Lexington Books, 2009
6 See supra note 1
9 See supra, note 1

Tammi Rossman -Benjami
Chair, NCJA Task Force on Academia and Campus Life

________/s/______________ __________/s/_____________
Lori Lowenthal Marcus Beth Gilinsky
Chair, NCJA Executive Committee Executive Director, NCJA

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