ZOA Complaint Triggered Federal Anti-Semitism Investigation At UC Irvine, Says U.S. Civil Rights Commission
May 18, 2006

New York – Kenneth L. Marcus, Staff Director and Acting General Counsel of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, noted that “the ongoing investigation” of anti-Semitism at the University of California, Irvine was “prompted” by the “complaint filed by the Zionist Organization of America … on behalf of Jewish students at UCI.” Mr. Marcus’ comments were reported by the Los Angeles Times in an article addressing this week’s anti-Semitic event at UCI called “Holocaust in the Holy Land.” (“Fresh Muslim-Jewish Discord on Campus,” May 12, 2006)

Before his appointment as Staff Director of the Civil Rights Commission by the President, Mr. Marcus was head of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. Under his leadership, the Office for Civil Rights issued important new directives regarding anti-Semitic and other harassment. The Office for Civil Rights clarified that Jewish students are protected from harassment under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color and national origin.

In his position as Staff Director of the Civil Rights Commission, Mr. Marcus has continued his work to fight anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination. The Commission held its first-ever hearing on campus anti-Semitism in November 2005, at which the ZOA was pleased to testify. Based on the evidence presented, the Commission issued powerful findings and recommendations on April 3, 2006. The Commission recognized that some forms of anti-Israel and anti-Zionist speech and conduct are in reality anti-Semitism, not “legitimate discourse regarding foreign policy.” According to the Commission, “[a]nti-Semitic bigotry is no less morally deplorable when camouflaged as anti-Israelism or anti-Zionism.” The Commission recommended that “university leadership … set a moral example by denouncing anti-Semitic and other hate speech.”

Mr. Marcus reiterated this recommendation in the Los Angeles Times article about this week’s hateful event at UCI. He noted that “[t]he fact that it takes place in a public lecture or that it presents itself as being foreign-policy related doesn’t make it any less anti-Semitic… . .University leadership has a moral obligation to make clear that there are limits on civilized discourse.”

Unfortunately, the UCI administration has not heeded the Commission’s recommendation. Students, faculty and community members have repeatedly requested that the administration denounce this week’s event — which includes lectures called “Hamas: The People’s Choice;” “Israel: The 4th Reich;” and “Zionism Hijacking Judaism.” The administration has refused to condemn any of this as bigoted, hateful and inflammatory. Instead, Chancellor Michael V. Drake issued a general “message on civility,” which does not even mention the anti-Semitic campus events this week or their hurtful and harassing effects on members of the university community.

Last week, the Chancellor did see fit to issue a message to the university community condemning the interruption of a visiting professor’s lecture by protestors, specifically noting that “[w]e cannot tolerate behavior of this nature.” But hateful and bigoted events specifically targeted at inciting hatred of Jews and Israel are not worthy of comment by the UCI administration, and they will be tolerated.

“We at the ZOA are so grateful to Ken Marcus for his leadership and impressive work in fighting anti-Semitism, including Israel bashing, in our nation’s schools and on college campuses,” said Susan Tuchman, the Director of the ZOA’s Center for Law and Justice. “It’s extremely disappointing though to see how little the UC Irvine administration understands about its obligation to provide a campus environment that is free from anti-Semitic hostility. The administration seems to forget that it has its own First Amendment right to free speech, and that it can and should be exercising that right by condemning the ‘Holocaust in the Holy Land’ events, which are plainly anti-Semitic. The university says it doesn’t want to take sides, but by remaining silent, it has taken sides — the side of the bigots.”

ZOA National President Morton Klein commented, “Ken Marcus helped set the groundwork for the ongoing government investigation of the ZOA’s complaint against UC Irvine. He spearheaded the Office for Civil Rights’ interpretation of Title VI that would ensure that victims of anti-Semitism and Israel bashing would be protected. His important work at the Civil Rights Commission helped lead to the Commission’s historic findings and recommendations that recognize Jewish students’ right to be protected from anti-Semitic harassment on campus. We urge the administration at UC Irvine to take the findings and recommendations seriously and heed their directives. A significant first step would be for the administration to acknowledge and publicly denounce the ‘Holocaust in the Holy Land’ events as anti-Semitic bigotry. Surely if this were an event demonizing African Americans, officials at UCI would not permit anti-black hatred to go unanswered or unchallenged.”

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