Lauri: Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to the Endowment for Middle-East Truth (EMET)’s weekly webinar. This week’s seminar deals with the topic of antisemitism in academia. First, I want to first thank Lorraine Pelosof for her generous sponsorship of today’s webinar. We appreciate Lorraine’s generosity very much. Anybody else who is interested in sponsoring a webinar, please do reach out. As always, your support for EMET is much needed and greatly appreciated. Without your support, we could not do what we do.
Today’s webinar will be recorded. If you have any questions, we will try to get to them towards the latter part of the webinar, so please, put them in the Q and A. I am going to keep our guests’ bios abbreviated because we have a lot to talk about. Asaf Romirowsky is the Executive Director of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME), and the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa. He is also a senior non-resident research fellow at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. Kenneth Marcus is a founder and chairman of the Louis D Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law. He is a professional lecturer in law at the George Washington University Law School, among other academic affiliations. Ken served as the assistant US Secretary of Education for Civil Rights under the Trump Administration. Welcome to both of you.
I cannot thank you enough for joining. I know that you are experts on this topic, and I am sure our audience is going to enjoy hearing your insights. Following the atrocities of October 7th, open antisemitism has invaded our college campuses, city streets, malls and town councils. Campus antisemitism is not a surprise to us but American Jews are finally understanding just how widespread, systemic and dangerous it is and are asking what can be done about it. We are going to get into that, but I first want to talk about the issue itself.
Jewish students have been dealing with antisemitism for some time. They have had to contend with eviction notices on their dorm doors and annual events like Apartheid Week. It appears antisemitic incidents are escalating on almost every campus from California to New York and in both state and private universities, including Ivy Leagues. Very little action has been taken by college administrators to protect Jewish students even though we have seen clear violations of campus codes of conduct. Recently we saw a Jewish student surrounded on Harvard campus and pro-Israel students forced to lock themselves in a room at Cooper Union. Asaf, can you discuss how this has been building and why administrators have been reluctant to deal with it? By refusing to enforce their campus codes of conduct for Jews, it appears they are singling Jews out as the only minority not worthy of protection.
Asaf: Sure. Well, first of all it is a pleasure to be here. Lauri, both you and Ken are longtime friends. Ken was one of the original board members at SPME, so it is nice to be among friends. You pose a broad question. We can talk about it for hours. Let me try and contextualize what I have been observing both pre and post October 7th.
What we are seeing now is really the embodiment of what has been happening for decades on American college campuses. This is really a result of the hijacking of the social sciences which has been happening in North America since the 50s and 60s. The ideas came from the Arab world in general and are based especially on the Palestinian narrative. The Arab world determined if they could not defeat Israel on the ground, they could win hearts and minds. They achieved that through years of decades of buying. I say that tongue in cheek but it is no joke. The Jewish community has spent a lot of time investing in the academy. We may have bought the buildings but the opposition has bought the education. They have been investing in buying chairs and departments with the idea that if one buys a chair or a department, one also buys the way in which the associated subjects are being taught.
Their sole, intentional and predetermined goal was to create sympathetic views of the Palestinian narrative and of the Arab viewpoint, with the clear intention of flipping the narrative. That is to say, Israel is the quintessential evil. Israel is Goliath and the Palestinians are David. This has impacted multiple disciplines. I trained in Middle East studies. Middle East studies was the epicenter of all this, but it has spread throughout the academy and throughout the disciplines. Facts no longer matter. You have a narrative that has built to a crescendo and led us to the reality we are now facing. It is important to note that much of this ideology is very similar to the ideology employed by the Soviets when they were trying to hijack American institutions in the 50s. This illustrates the Soviet impact on Palestinian ideology. Yasser Arafat and company were more Marxist than they were anything else.
The victim victimizer mentality is a kind of Marxist ideology which has been ingrained in college students. This is part of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) critical race theory construct that has been successfully implemented on American college campuses. The BDS movement, which erupted after the Durban Conference, fed into what I would consider to be a preexisting condition.
Prior to the Durban Conference, faculty administrators were already teaching this Marxist ideology. After the conference, we saw massive demonstrations in South Africa calling Zionism racism and calling for the destruction of Israel. Apartheid was already a concept available and waiting for them to exploit. There was fertile ground to start the movement toward the reality that we are seeing today. Nelson Mandela was no longer imprisoned and a new Mandela was needed. This fed into the Palestinian as victim dynamic. It was very easy to galvanize the apartheid analogy because the world had already rallied to take down apartheid in South Africa. Now they were presented with a new version they could unite to condemn. All of this led to the adulation we saw emerge right after October 7th. October 7th is not only a war on the ground, it is a war on American college campuses. That is what Hamas wanted.
What we have seen is Hamas in America, or the Muslim brotherhood’s infiltration into American society at large. Two days after the war began, I wrote a piece about the adulation and celebration of Hamas on American college campuses. We have all heard about what happened at Cornell with Rick Rickford, who wrote he was exhilarated by Hamas’ actions. He was not the only one, there were others who praised Hamas as well.
The Israeli-Palestinian dynamic has always been looked at as a colonial project, and they were able to double-down on the colonial terminology and narrative. They were also able to exploit the fixation on race in the United States and they made sure Jews were seen as white while Palestinians were seen as black. With this framing, they convinced students the Israelis export racism. The adulation of October 7th was seen as a form of cracking down on Israeli racism. All of this is the ideological background to what has played on college campuses. Ken and I agree the Jewish community has had two problems over the years. The first has been proving that we are a minority and the second has been proving antisemitism is racism. Over the years, we have not been very successful in making those cases.
Embrace of the idea that Jews are quintessentially evil and the steady rise in antisemitism, occurred even before October 7th. These ideas escalated together with DEI which included all minorities except Jews. The BDS movement also contributed to the rise in antisemitism. The ironic part about the DEI construct, and its narrative at large, is that it is racist. There is inclusion for some groups only. The Palestinians are on top of the oppression pyramid and there is intersectionality between those who are considered the oppressed. You may not support any kind of progressive liberal cause without supporting the Palestinian cause. You may not be Jewish and progressive. One may not be a Jew and support LGBTQ rights or women’s rights without supporting the Palestinian narrative. You have to choose and to be on the side of justice, you must choose the Palestinian narrative.
The Jews did not qualify as victims on the oppression pyramid. As such, every time Jews called out antisemitism, the response was, no, no, no, you are deflecting from the real issues of the Palestinians. Jews were accused of pinkwashing, of human rights violations, of breaking international law and of deflecting from real atrocities. So, after October 7th, there was little condemnation of the barbaric Nazi actions which killed, raped and maimed Jews in a contemporary holocaust. The response we got was support for the perceived victims which meant support for Hamas, a terrorist organization. That is how we got to where we are in a nutshell.
Lauri: Thank you Asaf, there is quite a lot packed in there. Ken, I wanted you to talk more about diversity, equity, and inclusion, which Asaf raised. I also want your view on how we have reached the point that hatred of Israel and the Jewish people is so ingrained in campus ideology.
First, however, I want to run through a few statistics I think are important in understanding the moral perversion of Gen Z, who are seemingly the product of DEI indoctrination even before they get to college.
In a recent Harvard Harris poll, 48% of 18 to 24-year-old respondents said they supported Hamas, 51% of this group said that Hamas’ violence against Israeli civilians was justified, 62% agreed that what Hamas did to Israel was genocidal. In other words, a majority of 18- to 24-year- olds believes that genocide against Israeli civilians is justified. Perhaps that’s because 67% of those individuals also believe that Jews as a class are oppressors and should be treated as such. Asaf touched on this. Can you elaborate on the DEI programs on campus? What are your insights on its longevity now that Claudine Gay has been forced to step down? Do you think that might be the beginning of the end for DEI?
Ken: I would be happy to respond to Lauri, and thanks for having me on. It is always great working with you and Sarah and it is a pleasure to see my former colleague Asaf Romirowsky as well. That was quite a nutshell we just got from Asaf, so my thanks to him.
On DEI, we are hearing that it is just wrong to have DEI programs that omit Jews and we cannot continue to DEI offices dealing with every other ethnic group except Jews in corporate America. I think that is true but it is not the whole story. We need to ask why it is that Jews are omitted. Sometimes the excuse is that DEI does not deal with religious groups but only with groups defined by race or national origin. That denies what it means to be Jewish. We are not merely tied by faith or practice, but also by peoplehood. As such, there is a real erasure of our identity that occurs when they exclude Jews.
However, it really is not enough to say that DEI officials should continue doing exactly what they are doing, but remember to recognize Jewish American Heritage month each May. It is also not enough for them to add one slide to their deck, dealing with antisemitism, or Jewish identity. The fact that they are not doing any of those things is a problem, but it is not the whole problem. There is also the question of who is leading DEI initiatives. We have seen the research from the University of Arkansas Jake Green’s team. This research studied the tweets of DEI campus officials and the results show an extraordinary obsession with Israel. That obsession is almost entirely anti-Zionist, to the point of being antisemitic. Professor Green demonstrated this at great length. Given the obsession of these DEI officials with Israel, how is it that we could expect these are the right people to teach about Jewish identity or antisemitism?
The problem runs even deeper than that and goes to the fundamental basis of current DEI ideology. There are some people who support DEI, and there are other people who oppose it. I find, generally speaking, these two groups are talking about two very different concepts. People who support or oppose an increase to the minimum wage, at least are talking about the same thing when they say the words minimum wage. People who support DEI, on the other hand, talk about something that they will tell you has existed for decades. They will tell you it is fundamental for the protection of everyone’s rights. That is because they are not talking about the contemporary DEI movement that succeeded what I would call diversity management. They are not talking about the whole cluster of apparatuses within universities and corporations. When people criticize DEI, it tends to be not the whole shebang. Rather they are criticizing an ideology based upon certain dichotomies between oppressor and oppressed and between white oppressors versus BIPOC victims.
Under the current DEI framework, Jews show up as whites, if at all. It really does not even matter if the Jews happen to be members of other, ethnic or racial groups as well. Currently when Jews are ignored, but then raise their hand, they are told to own their white privilege. They are treated as hyper white, as people who have an extraordinary amount of power, wealth, and privilege. In other words, the conversation tends to shift straight to traditional anti-Jewish stereotypes. Even if you add a session on antisemitism to a DEI course and you keep the rest the same, you retain the worldview that feeds the notion that Zionists are oppressors.
The oppressor versus victim worldview is a fundamental problem with current DEI ideology. This runs much deeper than the mere omission of Jews, Jewish identity and antisemitism. That does not necessarily mean that we need to get rid of DEI altogether because there we should continue to fight discrimination. We should continue to work to make sure that everyone feels included, valued, and respected. We should make sure that we are recognizing talent, and skills wherever they exist, no matter how they are wrapped. All of those things should continue, but just as we had other ways of doing that before the current DEI fad, we will have other ways of implementing it afterwards.
Lately, there have been articles in the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere about how ESG is becoming a bad word. That did not seem fathomable six months or a year ago. ESG had become ascendant to the point that it seemed to be a kind of an orthodoxy. Yet we may now be seeing the high watermark has passed when it comes to ESG. It is conceivable that the same is true for DEI, and there are some signs that people have increasing concerns about it. Whether the current version of DEI will lose its shine is hard to say. It is equally hard to say what will come next, because the answer to DEI is not to say no DEI. It must be defined differently to make sure that we are addressing antisemitism and other social problems. However, we must do it in a way that does no harm. In other words, we should respond to discrimination or exclusion, in ways that do not perpetuate the very problems we are trying to solve.
Lauri: Thanks Ken. Asaf, I do not think we can talk about antisemitism on college campuses without discussing Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), the Muslim Students Association (MSA) and even Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP). These organizations are proliferating across US campuses. Can you share with us what you know about SJP and these other organizations? What are their ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and other Muslim American associations? How are they financed?
We know that where there is an SJP chapter on campus, there is a seven times greater incidence of campus antisemitism. Yet there are over 200 SJP chapters across the country. I think since the Hamas war there have been two chapters that have been temporarily suspended, and I think that is about it. This is despite their activities on campuses and their breaches of university codes of conduct. SPNE focuses on faculty, because we know students come and go, and faculty are there to stay. These students, however, are moving into the real world, and taking their hateful ideology with them into corporate boardrooms and halls of Congress.
Can you talk about these organizations? Do you think that there will be an enforcement of codes of conduct, or a backlash to them on campuses?
Asaf: Right. It is a very good question. With respect to our focus at SPME, many of the students who were involved with SJP are now faculty. One of the members of an SJP family, is a well-known professor Hatem Bazian at UC, Berkeley. Hatem Bazian had the Center for Islamophobia. There are many others who started as students and now perpetuate the echo chamber as faculty. SJP is a subsidiary of the Muslim Brotherhood, they are connected to a group called the American Muslims for Palestine.
Over the years there has been evidence of ties to the BDS National Committee in Ramallah. There is money coming from Ramallah directly into American college campuses and vice versa. It is well known that Hamas has a presence in America. I live in Philadelphia. The first Hamas meeting was here in South Philly back in 1988. There has been a growing infiltration of groups on college campuses, with the idea of creating a contrast to those of the Jewish community. They create student activists and use them as a mechanism to perpetuate their ideology.
Over the years there have been many professors who raised money directly for terrorism and that is still going on today. The Attorney General of Virginia recently opened up a case investigating SJP and their links to terrorism. Arizona is doing the same thing. Brandeis is the only school to officially cut off ties with the SJP. As you mentioned, they were suspended from Columbia and NYU. There is going to be a fundamental question going forward now with respect to these groups and how connections to these groups impact the admissions process.
Are we going to start asking prospective students if they have direct ties to terrorism? How will we prove it? Are we going to follow the approach of the State Department and ask students who are applying if they have been part of a foreign terrorist organization? How does that help to resolve the issues on campus? Hamas is listed as a terrorist group but SJP is not. We know SJP has ties to terror groups. They have had ties with individuals with direct or indirect ties to monies that are funding terrorism. Individuals like Nihad Wadu have been in the news lately because of their ties to terrorism. We know about his direct ties to the Brotherhood and we know of other dubious individuals with ties to terrorism. We have concerns about the Muslim groups on campuses, Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), Muslim Students Association (MSA), World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY) and others, and the list goes on. We are also concerned about different charity groups. There is a problem with this infrastructure and we are seeking to expose it. The issue is that if a group is registered on an American college campus, they get money from the university. So, their money is actually being laundered by the university itself and it is hard to trace what part of the money is clean and what is not.
The organizations typically raise funds at external SJP conventions These monies are more directly connected to the funding of terrorism. They are Hamas in America and this needs to be exposed. SJP chapters are the subsidiaries of the Muslim Brotherhood in America. They have ties to Hamas. When members graduate, they get jobs working for congressmen, senators and others and they bring their SJP ideology with them. At the faculty level, individuals teach Hamas ideology on American college campuses and that is a problem. Back in 2004, for example, I was one of the people who exposed a Fulbright scholar as a member of Hamas at Florida Atlantic University. Because we exposed the story he was deported. Before he came to the States, however, he was writing textbooks for Hamas. What do you think he was teaching his class in Introduction to Islam?
The way in which the Introduction to Islam class should be taught is very different from how it is being taught. Islam is being introduced on campuses today in its most perverse and the most radicalized Islamist version. The jihadist narrative is embedded in education on college campuses and it is therefore no surprise that students supported terrorists on and after October 7th. How to crack down on terrorism is a question that needs to be addressed by all our institutions.
Is tainted money coming into universities a violation of their codes of conduct? The question of whether tax codes are violated when the universities receive gifts of this kind, was raised in the Ways and Means Congressional Hearings. Is there a violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA)? Are there other violations being committed? If we are to clean up our institutions going forward, these are the kind of things we need to do a much better job of tracking. Similar to what Ken pointed at with respect to DEI, there is no point in temporarily suspending SJP chapters because that will not solve the underlying problem. We have to look at the larger issue here. We have to consider the entire infrastructure behind the ideology, the money and the individuals. We need to understand this infrastructure and learn how to break down their playbook.
Ken: Lauri since Asaf mentioned Brandeis in his response, I should clarify that he was not referring to the premier civil rights organization fighting campus anti-Semitism in America. That would be the Louis D Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law. I think he was referring to the university. We have no relationship with them, although we are pleased to share our name with them.
Lauri: Good point. Ken, do you believe that campus adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliances (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism would help? Asaf and I have been speaking for years and years about getting colleges to adopt IHRA, and we failed to make this pervasive across campuses. I think one of the arguments against it is that adoption of IHRA is against free speech and academic freedom. It seems to me, however, that the first amendment does not prevent college administrators from enforcing campus codes of conduct.
They seem to be hiding behind these free speech claims, while ignoring their fiduciary duty to protect all students on campus. There is also President Trump’s executive order, which basically adopted the IHRA definition while recognizing Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race and national origin and sex. That I believe is a tool that you used when you were in the Department of Education’s Offices of Civil Rights (OCR). You were enforcing the executive order at OCR from what I understand, but it looks like it has been ignored under the Biden administration. EMET has been integrally involved in pushing for the Anti Semitism Awareness Act that is making its way through Congress. From your perspective at Brandeis, how do you view the available tools? What can be done to help deal with antisemitism on campus using the tools I just mentioned?
Ken: I will tell you a secret Lauri, you did not really fail. There are university administrators who do not want to embrace IHRA for various reasons. I try to let them down gently when I tell them it is too late, because they already have. They have already signed assurances to the US Department of Education they will comply with the law, statutes, regulations, executive orders and guidance of the United States. That means they have already made a binding commitment to the United States as a condition of substantial funds that they have received.
Complying with laws includes complying with the very executive order you have mentioned, Executive Order, 13899, president Donald Trump’s executive order on combating anti-Semitism. While this order may appear to have been archived in the Biden White House website, it remains current. Unlike so many of President Trump’s other executive orders, it has never been rescinded and remains active. While the Biden officials seldom speak boldly or clearly about that order, they have never taken it down, nor have they taken any measure to rescind the guidance document that incorporates the executive order into the active policy of the US Department of Education’s OCR. OCR is the regulatory authority conducting enforcement over these very universities. OCR guidance materials developed and posted during the last administration remain on the active website portal of OCR. This guidance is referenced regularly by the Biden administration. For example, on the day that president Biden issued the national strategy on combating antisemitism, assistant Secretary Katherine Lehman, my successor, who then became my predecessor, who is now my successor again at OCR, issued a dear colleague letter, which listed that very guidance at the top of the sources.
Similarly, you will see the guidance prominently displayed on OCR’s website and it remains active. If you ask them quietly if it is still enforced, they will say yes. The problem is twofold. First, they have promised again and again that they would give durability, strength and prominence to that executive order by issuing a regulation. This regulation has been promised for the last few years but the administration announced in December that they would postpone it by yet another year. That is a problem in terms of both optics and policy. It is also problematic they are not willing to speak about it with sufficient clarity and even experts do not know about it. The fact that they are unclear about whether it is applicable or not, suggests that the Biden administration is not taking the sort of approach to campus antisemitism we would like. On the one hand, they are able to say it is still there, it is an active policy and they have not taken it down. They can claim they continue to mention it whenever they list active policies. However, with one conspicuous exception, they do not act upon it.
They do not take actions that make it clear that they are taking it seriously. The one conspicuous exception is the University of Vermont case. That was a Brandeis Center case resolved by the Biden administration last year. They did not specifically mention the executive order, but the decision from OCR really would not have made so much sense without it. Since it is the basis for the one important resolution they have made, they cannot maintain they are not following it. That said, it is also hard for them to make the case that they are using it with the sort of effectiveness, and forcefulness and boldness and clarity that one would like to see.
You mentioned first amendment concerns. I would say there really are no more first amendment concerns about this guidance than about any other civil rights law. My feeling is that when enforcing civil rights, especially with respect to hostile environments, one needs to be very careful about whether one is inadvertently violating other rights, especially the first amendment. That is true under any of the Civil Rights statutes that OCR enforces. IHRA is a definition, it does not limit anyone’s speech in any way. The executive order uses IHRA in a way that is very specifically crafted.
It does not state that people cannot say what they want to say. However, it does indicate the words people use, may be shown to be evidence of motivation. If you say that you hate Israel, that may be protected speech. However, if you say that you hate Israel and then throw a rock smashing a window at Hillel, your words may be used to show the motivation was to hit the building, and that it was a hate crime. This is because the motivation, in this case, was not simply to skip stones, but a desire to do damage to a Jewish institution. I would say, then, that IHRA remains a part of the regulatory edifice of the United States.
It is something that university presidents regularly commit to follow, but they do it without the sort of sincerity that one would expect. They do it without the follow-up and the clarity one would expect. That is why we sorely need to receive either the leadership that the Biden administration has promised, but not followed up on, or we need action from Congress. The anti-Semitism Awareness Act you mentioned is now pending before both chambers.
Lauri: Thank you, Ken. That was very insightful, much appreciated. Asaf, I am going to turn to you to discuss faculty. I have been looking through the questions. There were quite a lot of them, and a number of people have asked about faculty. Last week an MIT professor resigned. He stated that the months since October 7th had been deeply disappointing to him. During a time when the Jewish and Israeli students, staff, and faculty were particularly vulnerable, the broader MIT community exhibited open hostility towards them rather than offering the support they needed. He added that some areas of study at MIT seem to prioritize promotion of a specific worldview over teaching critical thinking skills.
I would argue that promotion of a specific worldview at the expense of critical thinking has been institutionalized in K-12 and higher education in general. Going back to faculty, I want to know, where the pro-Israel faculty are? I know they are a minority on campus by far, but are they intimidated and overpowered the way Jewish students seem to be? Why are they not speaking out? On the other hand, I think is that many of the pro-Palestinian anti-Israel professors are empowered because they are tenured. These include people like Judith Butler and Laura Sheehy.
They are numerous, they are loud, and they are intimidating. What is the deal with faculty Asaf, and what is happening with them?
Asaf: You are absolutely right. SPME was created to support faculty because of the fact that they feel isolated and alone. Our number one goal was to try to create a sense of community. While we have a significant list of faculty members on American college campuses around the world, there may be only two or three only on an individual campus. If they are tenured, they might be speaking out. If they are not tenured, they are not talking at all. I think the hostile environment, and the political toxicity exhibited on the majority of American college campuses, is indeed threatening.
Even before October 7th, faculty have faced physical threats. Individuals have had swastikas drawn on their cars and knives put on their doors. We have observed physical and verbal abuse on American college campuses towards the pro-Israel community. Jews and non-Jews are ostracized if they are sympathetic towards the Israeli Zionist narrative and so it takes a lot of courage for faculty to speak out. On the positive side, we have seen some lawsuits expose negative behavior. Some of the dirty laundry is being aired and this is a positive step toward holding the institutions accountable for what’s happening.
Our organization was also created to counter the Middle East Studies Association (MESA). MESA is a toxic, hostile, pro-Arab and pro-Palestinian institution. I would argue they are an advocacy organization since they openly endorsed the boycott of Israel and BDS at large. They are not a scholarly academic association. Unfortunately, there are copycats in other similar disciplines including American studies, Asian studies, women’s studies and others. We are in the business of giving a lot of pro-bono legal advice for faculty who need it. They need support and they need resources from the outside. They need support from community efforts and from donors and they need others to speak out on these issues. It is a very complex situation.
You discussed the status of Jews in the DEI framework. We have discovered a significant number of Jews support this framework and we have a very healthy fifth column. Many people use their Jewish backgrounds to argue the anti-Israel narrative. Given all of this, our number one job is to help support and bolster our faculty who are doing the hand to hand combat on the ground. From what I have been seeing, this is the area where we are seeing the most acceleration.
We have a nucleus that needs support in dealing with the university administrations, their own chairs, their own departments and so on.
Another critical point that needs to be enforced is that we need to help younger junior faculty members to get through the tenure process. We need to help them establish themselves in the academy, get published in peer review and present at academic conferences. We must give them what they need as faculty to ensure they remain as a voice and force in the universities. While we still have some level of balance on campuses today, our biggest concern is the trajectory as it appears today. If we do not do something now, there will be no faculty to talk to twenty years down the road. The people who we know are on our side, are retiring or passing naturally. We have to make sure that we have strong people in their 40s and 50s and 30s who are getting through the process, and are standing up for what the role of the university and an institution of higher education should be. We need faculty who will stand up for liberal values, deal with inquisitive research and actually do research as opposed to buying into optics.
People are basically being spoon-fed within the DEI, or critical race theory echo chamber. That is not the role of the university. As a result of the recent hearings with MIT, Harvard and Penn, we now have an opening. There is an opportunity for Jewish donors to say where their money is going, what institutions should be supported and what avenues we should be examining to maintain the academy.
The irony of all ironies is that Jews and Catholics invested the most in the academy, and now those same institutions are now turning on them. When October 7th happened, some Catholic universities reached out to Jewish faculty and students and invited them to transfer because their campuses provided a much safer environment for Jews than on other campuses.
Lauri: Thanks, Asaf. Ken, please spend a couple of minutes talking about legal avenues that can be used to address the prevalence of campus anti-Semitism. I know that Brandeis, and that would be your Brandeis not Brandeis University, has filed a lawsuit against Berkeley. Perhaps you can share with us some of the specifics of that case. I believe there are other lawsuits that are making their way toward being filed, and claims that will be pursued. Can you give us your thoughts on the investigations into college campuses being conducted by the House of Representatives as well? If you have any insights as to that or other OCR investigations, please share.
Ken: Thank you, Lauri. We have built up the Louis D Brandeis Center in Washington (the Brandeis Center) over the last dozen years. Every day, more than a dozen of our litigators talk to students and those faculty members to whom Asaf is not already providing pro bono legal services. We represent them and give them counsel. In some cases, we work with university administrators to try and ensure that they voluntarily comply with federal law on the rights of Jewish students. Where they will not voluntarily comply, we hold them legally liable. That can mean bringing them before OCR, the agency that I ran twice in the past. OCR is the agency that controls all of their federal education funding and we can take universities to federal district court. We did this with the University of California at Berkeley. That case involved between twelve and nineteen different organizations within the law school. These organizations stipulated if you are a Zionist or support the state of Israel, you may not speak to them on any topic whatsoever. This does not include speaking about Israel only. If you are an expert on, for instance, feminist jurisprudence, but you are a Zionist, you may not talk to them. They do not have similar rules against any other group.
They do not have rules saying that racists or sexists cannot speak to them. You could be a murderer or rapist and that is fine just as long as you are not a Zionist. If you are a Zionist and you are part of a victim-group, you may not speak to them. It is not about viewpoint, it is simply a matter of saying no to Jews, with Zionists being a proxy for Jews. That is an example of a matter where we have taken a university to court. We are looking at other potential court cases. We are looking at other potential OCR cases. Every day, we are speaking to students, professors and others.
We have a membership organization called, Jewish Americans for Fairness in Education. It is part of the Brandeis Center. We are signing members up every day, and we are bringing lawsuits through our membership association. Lauri in your question you also asked about oversight. I am pleased that yesterday the House Committee on Education and Workforce followed up their prior hearings with demands for information from Harvard University. I was pleased to testify before that committee a few weeks ago to describe the problem, to urge them to do oversight.
I am sure you are aware that the Committee had a few college presidents testify before them recently. I have to say that the resignation of two of those college presidents is clearly just the beginning of the work that this House Committee is doing. I think the length, complexity and detail of the correspondence issued yesterday, is a sign of the seriousness of the work that chairwoman Virginia Fox is doing with her committee.
One of the matters on which they are demanding information, involves our clients at Harvard University. Our clients were harassed and there was an attempt to silence them when they said that they wanted to do a project on Israel as a Jewish democracy. Apparently, that was beyond the pale and something that cannot even be discussed at Harvard. Their dean admitted, in accepting findings of a Harvard investigator, that this was discriminatory. However, Harvard is not taking action. We need to take legal action when university administrators are recalcitrant. We need to do this through a combination of congressional activism, and litigation. For those who are out there, we are speaking to students and enlisting plaintiffs, and complainants every day and you can contact us at https://brandeiscenter.com/.
We also have a call line we operate together with the Anti-Defamation League. This is in conjunction with Hillel International and supported by the Gibson Dunn Law Firm. This call line has been getting an enormous number of calls and requests for help. We are working with the students who reach out to the call line to determine the appropriate response. In some cases that may mean legal action.
Lauri: Thanks Ken for all you are doing with Brandeis. Thanks to you and Elisa and your whole staff for doing great work. I am going to turn to the questions. To the people who posted questions asking for advice on how to handle a particular situation, please email me directly and I can pass that along to Ken and Asaf. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will be happy to help with any specific situations that you are facing but I am not going to be able to address those questions right now.
Our colleague Charles Jacobs posed the following question. Abe Foxman and David Harris, former leaders of ADL and AJC respectively, say we must scrap DEI and it is not fixable. Meanwhile, current leaders of both organizations think otherwise. What must we do to force ADL and AJC to change their views and policies, and how much does it matter? There are a number of other people who have asked where the ADL is in all this.
Asaf: Sure. It is good to see Charles and I am glad he is here. First of all, I just wanted to stress that the Brandeis Center, with Ken and Elisa, and also Lauri, have been phenomenal partners for SPME over the years. We send our faculty to them for legal help. In the current environment, my advice is never to send faculty to their administration without legal advice. So, Ken, I thank you for all your past help dealing with faculty and providing them guidance. I also thank you in advance for your continued help in the future.
Charles knows better than I do what it is like to deal with the ADL and the AJC, and their position on DEI. The DEI configuration and its current formulation is indeed a religion on American college campuses. In my mind it is part of the reason we have all of these problems relating to antisemitism. The DEI officers, with antisemitism in their portfolio, cannot see it for what it is and therefore cannot take proper actions to address related issues. In his remarks, I think Ken alluded to how difficult it is, given the current DEI framework, to create an environment in which young people are judged on their merits and skill sets.
I think the legacy organizations are grappling with these issues. Charles knows more about this than I do. I do not believe that DEI, in its current format, can be fixed and I think that we have to call a spade a spade. I think DEI is not helping Jews on American college campuses. I cannot speak for those organizations, but I know there has been a great deal of movement as far as their defining what BDS is.
With respect to the question of when anti-Zionism crosses into anti-Semitism, I think October 8th clearly proved that they are synonymous. They were not calling for death to the left or to the right, they were calling to death to Jews. When you have those kinds of statements and pronouncements on American college campuses, it is very clear about what their end game is and I think there is a lot of work that needs to be done. In one of his recent New York Times columns, Brett Stephens, wrote about the phenomenon of the October 8th Jews.
I think that people are waking up, and I would like to hope that these organizations are also waking up to the reality that we are facing. As you mentioned Lauri, antisemitism has been rising steadily even before October 7th and we need to stop it before it gets much worse.
Lauri: Yeah, and I would add that everyone is blaming Claudine Gay for what is going on at Harvard. Her tenure was exactly five months. What has been going on at Harvard predates Claudine Gay, and it is not going to go away just because she has resigned. Ken, can you talk about Hillel? One or two people have asked where the Hillels are on this. There was an article or a letter that I saw written by the Harvard Hillel Director which was really horrific. He is not in our camp. Somebody else posted a comment here about Hillel as well. So where is Hillel in helping these students?
Ken: I mentioned before that Hillel International is one of our partner organizations on the call line, and I think that they have been helpful at steering Jewish students to the Brandeis Center and ADL. We have worked with Hillel International, including its general counsel Mark Rotenberg, on a number of matters where we have found Hillel and Mark to be strong and helpful partners. Hillel remains a rather decentralized organization, maybe not quite to the extent that it was several years ago, but it remains an organization with many different chapters.
Campus Hillels tend to have a high degree of independence. Some Hillels are actually part of universities, so that the Hillel Director is actually an employee of the university. Others are part of independent corporations with separate boards of directors for each Hillel. They are all very different and they tend to have different approaches based on their different boards and different executive directors. It should therefore not be surprising if you have had different experiences with them. I will say that we have had very good experiences with some Hillels. I have been particularly pleased with some of the cooperation that we have received from Hillels in the Chicago area for example. There are other Hillels, unfortunately, that I would not speak about as much.
Lauri: Thank you. Do you think that federal funds will ever be pulled from any university? I know we discussed the House of Representatives investigations and the OCR but is it realistic to think that the pulling of federal funds could be used as a remedy against campus antisemitism?
Ken: Technically, if OCR finds a violation, and proves it before an administrative law judge or federal district court judge, there is only one ultimate remedy. You cannot fine them and you cannot make them fire their dean or president.The remedy you have is the elimination of federal funds to the institution. This includes every Pell Grant to every student in that university.
Eliminating federal funds is the one and only official remedy at the end of the day. Because of the devastating consequences of the loss of all federal funds, it never really gets to that. What happens in practice, is that when OCR gets close to such a finding, it begins a process of negotiation. These negotiations might lead to the firing of an individual or may result in changes to policies, procedures or training.
Last year there were around seventeen thousand cases before OCR. The antisemitism cases are usually less than one tenth of 1% of the total caseload of that agency. This year, post October 7, we’re more than a tenth of a percent. Still, this agency deals with a very large number of cases of which antisemitism is just one piece. I do not know if federal funds have ever been literally eliminated for any entity, but if they have been, it has not been in recent memory. Occasionally the agency gets close and there is usually some anomaly to it.
Sometimes there are some odd specific reasons why the institution fails to capitulate, and the matter may get close to the point when federal funds could be withheld. Typically, there will be a settlement at some point or other. That does not mean that the possibility of losing funds is irrelevant and it serves as a sort of sword of Damocles over the heads of the institutions. The ultimate remedy and the extraordinary damage that it would cause, does bring institutions to the table to make the changes that they need to make.
Lauri: Thank you. Unfortunately, our time is up. There are a lot of questions still in the queue and more that I wanted to ask so perhaps we will do this again in the future. This discussion is being recorded. The recording will be sent out sometime during the day tomorrow, and it will also be posted on the EMET website. I believe SPME will also be sharing it. SPME co-sponsored this webinar. I failed to say that at the beginning, so thank you for that.
Again, Ken, Asaf, as always, you are unbelievably insightful. I appreciate your taking the time to join us this afternoon, and we look forward to continuing the conversation in the future. Thank you all. Have a good afternoon.
Asaf: Thank you, EMET. Thank you, Ken.
Ken: Good to see you both.
Asaf: Thank you.
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