NEW YORK – The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is currently investigating allegations that Jewish students at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) have been subjected to a long pattern of harassment and intimidation on campus, and that the university administration has turned a blind eye to this conduct.
The investigation came as the result of an 11-page complaint filed on behalf of Jewish students last October by the Zionist Organization of America’s Center for Law and Justice (ZOA-CLJ). The complaint was filed under Title VI of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964. If UCI is found to be in violation of Title VI, it could lose its federal funding.
The ZOA-CLJ filed its complaint after hearing from Jewish students about the anti-Semitic and anti-Israel speech and conduct to which they were being subjected for years at UCI. These students had already complained repeatedly to the administration, and at least one student had contacted the ADL for help. Though numerous meetings were held about the problem, none of those efforts resulted in any significant change in the hostile environment on campus for Jewish and pro-Israel students.
The ZOA-initiated government investigation of Jewish students’ claims was the subject of a recent article by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, published in many Jewish newspapers, including the Jerusalem Post, the Jewish News Weekly of Northern California and the Chicago Jewish News. These articles contained comments from Joyce Greenspan, the director of the ADL’s Orange County office. Rather than commending and supporting the ZOA’s efforts, Ms. Greenspan condemned them, by stating, “It is disconcerting when an outside group comes in with all guns blazing. Changes occur not through lawsuits but by education on campus and by working toward better communications.”
The ZOA expressed its dismay at the comments in a letter to Ms. Greenspan from Susan Tuchman, the Director of the ZOA-CLJ. Copies of the letter were sent to Abe Foxman, ADL’s National Director, to Barbara Balser, National ADL Chairperson, and to Cecilia Goodman, President of the ADL’s Orange County Office. The ZOA believes that the ADL’s public comments are irresponsible and counter-productive. The letter points out the following:
- That the ADL is simply wrong to say that “changes occur not through lawsuits.” According to Ms. Tuchman, “That is exactly how many changes occur, as proven by the many civil rights lawsuits in this country that were fought to protect and secure the rights of minorities, women, the disabled, and those who have been subjected to religious discrimination and persecution.”
- That the ADL’s comments “have belittled the seriousness of the problems that Jewish students have faced at UCI and unfortunately have shifted the focus from what is really at stake — making sure that anti-Semitism and Israel-bashing are no longer tolerated by the administration at UCI.”
- That saying that the ZOA acted with “all guns blazing” makes it sound like “the ZOA is comprised of a group of violent agitators. Nothing could be further from the truth: the ZOA chose a peaceful and entirely legitimate course of action” to enforce existing federal civil rights law. It is a strategy that the ADL itself has used to promote changes for the benefit of the Jewish community. In fact, most civil rights groups use the legal system to correct injustices.
- That the ZOA, like the ADL, learned from UCI students that they were being subjected to harassment and intimidation for years, because they were Jewish and supported the State of Israel. The ZOA prepared and filed the complaint on the students’ behalf to change the climate of fear on campus, since meetings with the administration and other efforts had failed to bring results.
- That the ZOA’s complaint was based on “the experiences and reports of many Jewish students at UCI” and was filed with their “input, approval and support,” which is “unwavering.”
- That the ZOA is no “outside group,” but rather “a national organization, with offices all over the country, including one in Los Angeles, California” near the Irvine campus. The National Director of the ZOA’s Campus Activism Department, Julie Sager, is also based in Los Angeles. Furthermore, ZOA leaders have made visits to the campus to learn first-hand about the problems there.
It is unclear whether Ms. Greenspan made these egregious and disturbing comments on her own or with the knowledge and approval of ADL’s National Director, Abe Foxman. But if Mr. Foxman disagrees with the comments, he has so far neither disavowed nor retracted them on behalf of the ADL, despite the fact that they undermine an important effort to rectify an anti-Semitic and anti-Israel atmosphere on a major college campus in this country.
Morton A. Klein, the ZOA’s National President, stated that ADL’s strong rebuke of the ZOA’s efforts at UCI is clearly unhelpful. “We feel that we have no choice but to respond publicly when the ADL publicly attacks the ZOA’s efforts on behalf of Jewish students at UCI. I know first-hand that there is a climate of fear at UCI. I personally spoke with many students there. And when I was asked to speak there last November, Jewish students pleaded with me to speak off-campus, because they were afraid of the negative repercussions and harassment they would inevitably endure from having a strong pro-Israel speaker on the campus itself.
The ADL has hurt the ZOA’s legal effort to work toward ridding the UCI campus of this atmosphere of intimidation. If the ADL had genuine concerns about any of the ZOA’s activities regarding UCI, they should have contacted us privately. Instead, the ADL attacked the ZOA in a public forum, falsely painting ZOA’s actions as rash and misguided. ADL’s public statements may well strengthen the resolve of the UCI administration not to take any affirmative steps to correct this intolerable situation due to the belief that the Jewish community is divided on this issue and on how to address it.
The ZOA would like nothing better than to work harmoniously with the ADL and other Jewish groups for the benefit of Jewish students and the elimination of anti-Semitism and Israel bashing on campuses and elsewhere.”