(Washington, D.C., September 17, 2018) Today, the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET) praised Kenneth L. Marcus, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the Department of Education (DOE), for employing the U.S. State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism in a case against Rutgers University, involving discrimination against Jewish students.
The case, originally filed in 2011 and appealed in 2014, alleged that a Jewish student was harassed and physically threatened by the Outreach Coordinator of the University’s Center for Middle East Studies. Additionally, a campus student group discriminated against pro-Israel and Jewish students by selectively charging them an admission fee to an event. At the time, DOE’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) determined there was insufficient evidence of discrimination on the basis of “national origin” under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, and closed the case.
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin. However, OCR has previously indicated in a 2010 Dear Colleague letter that “discrimination on the basis of actual or perceived shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics may not be denied protection under Title VI on the ground that they also share a common faith. These principles apply not just to Jewish students, but also to students from any discrete religious group that shares, or is perceived to share, ancestry or ethnic characteristics (e.g., Muslims or Sikhs).” Essentially, according to the letter, OCR has the responsibility to investigate cases of anti-Semitism under Title VI of the Civil Rights. The letter did not, however, provide a definition or examples of what constitutes as anti-Semitism.
Mr. Marcus reopened the Rutgers case, and determined that OCR New York will investigate the case based upon the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, which is also used by the State Department. “In determining whether students face discrimination on the basis of actual or perceived Jewish ancestry, we rely where appropriate upon widely established definitions of anti-Semitism. The IHRA working definition is widely used by governmental agencies, including the U.S. Department of State, and is used by OCR as well,” Mr. Marcus wrote in a letter dated August 27, 2018.
The IHRA definition of anti-Semitism used by the U.S. State Department includes examples of the ways in which anti-Semitism manifests itself with regards to the State of Israel, including examples relating to: demonizing Israel, applying a double standard on Israel, and delegitimizing Israel. Employing the definition thus broadens the DOE’s criteria to identify, investigate, and punish all forms of anti-Semitism, including extreme anti-Zionism and anti-Israel harassment.
Anti-Semitic attacks on our nation’s college campuses have been on the rise. A July 2016 report by the AMCHA Initiative found that “There were nearly 100 more antisemitic incidents in the first six months of 2016 compared with the same time period in 2015,” when examining more than 100 college and university campuses with the largest Jewish student populations. A 2017 AMCHA report found that anti-Semitic incidents that were related to Israel were more likely to contribute to a “hostile environment” for Jewish students, than incidents of standard anti-Semitism.
EMET has been on Capitol Hill meeting with congressional offices for years to educate them about the rise of anti-Semitism on campuses, and to encourage them to ask the DOE to adopt the State department definition of anti-Semitism, to determine if incidents of harassment or discrimination potentially in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act were motivated by anti-Semitism.
Sarah Stern, founder and president of EMET said, “I applaud Kenneth Marcus and the Trump Administration for adopting the State Department definition of anti-Semitism to effectively combat the growing rise of anti-Semitism on our nation’s college campuses. For far too long, our Jewish students have been bullied, harassed and threatened simply for showing their support for the Jewish State of Israel. Finally, the Department of Education has recognized these attacks are often motivated by anti-Semitism. The Department of Education’s application of State’s definition of anti-Semitism will help to ensure that our students can safely and proudly continue to support Israel on campuses.”
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