The mission of the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education is “to ensure equal access to education and to promote educational excellence through vigorous enforcement of civil rights in our nation’s schools.”
In other words, to make sure that any school accepting federal assistance complies with the requirements of the 1964 Civil Rights Act regarding discrimination against anyone based on their race, color, national origin, age, disability, or sex. Title VI of that Act also protects students of any religion from discrimination and harassment.
During the Obama years, these requirements were expanded to include sexual orientation and gender identity — and contracted to exclude Jews, at least in practice.
For years, it has been open season on Jewish students on far too many American campuses as anti-Israel students and questionably-funded student groups post eviction notices on Jews’ dormitory doors or wonder aloud whether they should exercise their power to deny student government positions to those whose religious affiliations might make them too pro-Israel.
Jewish students are threatened, shouted down, chased, and even assaulted. The Anti-Defamation League has, for years, noted the increasingly hostile environment on American campuses for highly identified Jewish kids.
Seldom challenged by university administrations, the offenders claim that their words and actions are directed at the Jewish State of Israel rather than the individual Jewish students they’ve terrorized. Nonsense. Unless one is opposed to all religio-ethnic nationalism, singling out the Jewish state is inherently bigoted.
Indeed, if you’re calling for a Palestinian state, you’re ipso facto not opposed to religio-ethnic nationalism. Furthermore, anti-Israel zealotry almost always devolves into use of classically anti-Semitic language or tropes. Undeterred, the anti-Zionist-not-anti-Semite crowd vigorously defends itself. And for years, colleges and universities — already afraid of the intersectional shadows they’re forced to navigate — have let most of the worst of it slide.
Through it all, these flagrant violations of Title VI have been ignored by the Department of Education. With the appointment of Kenneth Marcus — founding director of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law and a former head of the Office for Civil Rights and the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights — the tide promises to turn and Jewish students will return to being lawfully protected on campus.
Which explains why pro-Palestinian activists are so angry.
Palestine Legal, which promotes itself as “providing legal support and advocacy for Palestinian rights activists in the U.S.,” calls Mr. Marcus “an anti-Palestinian crusader.” Stephen Zunes, a professor at the University of San Francisco, wrote that Mr. Marcus is “a direct threat to academic freedom and freedom of association on campus. Jewish Voice for Peace (a quintessential misnomer for the anti-Israel hate group) has found more than 200 faculty members to sign a statement opposing Mr. Marcus’ nomination.
What is it that Mr. Marcus has done that’s so terrible? He has encouraged Jewish students to assert their rights under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. He has opposed — along with the entire mainstream of the Jewish community — the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel as a manifestation of anti-Semitism. And he has supported a definition of anti-Semitism that includes the demonization, delegitimization, and holding to double standards of the Jewish State. Those are, quite literally, their objections to him. Horrors.
Palestinian activists — and the faraway terrorists with whom they sympathize — don’t want equal justice or an even playing field. Because they know they can’t win that way. Like the thugs they idolize who tie the U.N. and the West in knots, the thugs who run rampant on American campuses seek to subvert the tools of liberal democracy to undermine it. And, because of spineless or complicit faculty and administrators, they’ve gotten away with it for too long.
Unfortunately for them, Mr. Marcus isn’t spineless. And he isn’t going to let them play their game anymore. The Senate should confirm him immediately and put him to work letting American Jewish kids — indeed, finally, all kids — know that their rights too will be protected on campus.
• Jonathan Greenberg is an ordained reform rabbi and the senior vice president of the Haym Salomon Center.
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