Office For Civil Rights Abandons Jewish Students,
Defying U.S. Civil Rights Commission’s Recommendation
Defying U.S. Civil Rights Commission’s Recommendation
The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) is shocked by and condemns the decision issued by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) concerning allegations of anti-Semitic harassment that the ZOA made on behalf of Jewish students at the University of California, Irvine (UCI). The decision, in which OCR decided that no remedies to the anti-Semitism were warranted, is wrong, frightening and dangerous. It signals that OCR will not protect Jewish students from harassment and intimidation on their campuses, and that the harassment and intimidation can continue without consequence. OCR’s decision completely disregards the specific recommendation of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (an independent federal agency dedicated to studying and reporting on civil rights and discrimination issues) — that OCR “protect college students from anti-Semitic and other discriminatory harassment by vigorously enforcing Title VI [of the Civil Rights Act of 1964].”
In October 2004, the ZOA filed a complaint against UCI under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI), alleging that Jewish students were being subjected to a longstanding pattern of anti-Semitic harassment, intimidation and discrimination, which UCI knew about but failed to rectify in violation of Title VI. The complaint was filed with OCR, which is mandated to enforce Title VI. Title VI requires that recipients of federal funding (including UCI and many other colleges and universities) ensure that their programs and activities are free from racial and ethnic harassment, intimidation and discrimination.
In its decision, OCR disregarded the fact that a Holocaust memorial was destroyed; that swastikas repeatedly defaced property on the campus; that a rock was thrown at a Jewish student; and that other Jewish students were harassed and verbally threatened with such statements as “slaughter the Jews,” “dirty Jew,” go back to Russia,” “burn in hell,” and “f_ _king Jew.” According to OCR, these incidents did not show a pattern or practice of discrimination, but were instead “isolated” and “unrelated” acts “that cannot be said to create a single hostile environment.”
In its decision, OCR did not even acknowledge the fact that two Jewish students left UCI because they could no longer endure the hostility they faced on campus. The agency also ignored that many Jewish students reported being too afraid to wear yarmulkes or anything that might identify them as Jews or supporters of Israel; to go to certain areas of the campus where they would be subjected to false and vicious attacks against Jews, Zionists (today’s code word for Jews), and Israel; or to participate in or affiliate with Jewish or pro-Israel programs and activities. Even when ZOA’s National President, Morton A. Klein, was invited to speak at UCI, Jewish students were so frightened about the possibility of verbal and physical assaults by other students at the lecture that they pleaded with Mr. Klein to speak at an off-campus location.
In its decision, OCR whitewashed and distorted other evidence that Jewish students and the ZOA furnished, including the anti-Semitic speakers, campus magazine articles, symbols, marches and other events that regularly occurred on campus and hatefully and falsely attacked Jews, Zionists and Israel. OCR did note the words of one speaker, who said this about Jews: “Liars. Straight up liars, Rupert Murdock, Zionist Jews. The Zionist Jews own Fox News. They say that it’s anti-Semitic if you say that the Zionists control the media ”; and “They got the CIA. They got the media; they got Congress”; and “You all definitely don’t love children and you know why? Because you all kill them ”
OCR also noted a campus event depicting the Star of David equated with the swastika. Ignored were the campus student publication that alleged that “Jews are genetically different and separate” from non-Jews, the signs with the Star of David dripping with blood, pictures equating then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon with Hitler; and a large sign posted on the campus’ main road that said, “Israelis Love to Kill Innocent Children.”
OCR recognized that several Jewish students were intimidated and harassed by such campus events. But OCR refused to act on them, because they were purportedly “based on opposition to the policies of Israel.”
OCR’s distortion of the evidence was not the only problem with its decision. Equally outrageous was OCR’s conclusion that UCI’s response to Jewish students’ complaints was “prompt and effective.” OCR dismissed the fact that the Vice Chancellor spoke at — and thus legitimized — a university-wide “anti-hate” rally whose organizers told Jewish students that they weren’t welcome there. OCR dismissed the fact that UCI later honored one of those organizers, though knowing her role in seeking to exclude Jews from the rally. OCR also dismissed the fact that the Vice Chancellor responded to Jewish community concerns with an e-mail to another administrator that mockingly dismissed these Jewish concerns by saying that “the Jews are hysterical.” It is difficult to imagine that OCR would dismiss such a response to bigotry directed against blacks, Hispanics, or other racial and ethnic minorities.
For OCR, it was enough that UCI removed the swastikas; suggested counseling to Jewish students — as if the Jewish students were the ones with the problem; and suggested that students file complaints with the university. OCR ignored the evidence furnished by many students that in their experience, filing complaints with the administration was futile. OCR ignored the fact that UCI never confronted the actual problem — the anti-Semitic lies and bigotry that were causing Jewish students to feel harassed, intimidated and, in some cases, afraid for their physical safety on campus — including never directly condemning any of the bigotry as anti-Semitism, as other university administrations have done when bigotry against Jews occurred on their campuses.
After an almost three-year investigation, OCR shockingly concluded that “there is insufficient evidence to support the complainant’s allegation that the University failed to respond promptly and effectively to complaints by Jewish students that they were harassed and subjected to a hostile environment.” OCR’s conclusion disregards the overwhelming evidence of intimidation, harassment, and violence that administrators either ignored or took token and ineffective steps to address.
Susan B. Tuchman, Esq., the Director of the ZOA’s Center for Law and Justice, was appalled by the Office for Civil Rights’ decision. “Anyone familiar with the evidence in this case can see that the decision was driven by the results that OCR wanted to achieve, not by the evidence. In the fall of 2004, OCR clarified its policy for enforcing Title VI, recognizing that Jews are not just a religious group; they’re also an ethnic group entitled to the protections of Title VI. That clarified policy to protect against anti-Semitic harassment was whittled away under new leadership at OCR: Jewish students, regardless of where they were born or the color of their skin, will no longer be protected from racial and ethnic discrimination under Title VI. OCR’s decision in this case reflects that narrower policy. Evidence that we submitted was dismissed, distorted and outright ignored. There were witnesses that we repeatedly asked OCR to interview because they had relevant evidence, but the agency refused. OCR didn’t even interview a single UCI official until almost two years into the investigation, and that was after the ZOA raised concerns about the thoroughness of the investigation.
“Jewish students who courageously came forward in this investigation were counting on OCR. When these students tried unsuccessfully to get the UCI administration to respond to their fears and concerns, they rightfully expected that OCR would enforce the law to protect them. Disgracefully, this agency abandoned the students, as well as its statutory responsibility to remedy racial and ethnic discrimination. The unfortunate message that OCR has sent, to the perpetrators of the hate and to UCI, is that hateful anti-Semitic bigotry and Israel bashing will be tolerated.”
Morton A. Klein, the ZOA’s National President, condemned the Office for Civil Rights’ decision, calling it “a disgrace. It’s shocking that a government agency that is supposed to be committed to protecting Jews and other racial and ethnic minorities would ignore the overwhelming evidence that Jewish students have been harassed and intimidated on the UCI campus for years, and that UCI, well aware of their fears and concerns, hasn’t taken the steps to fix the problem. OCR’s decision surely would have been different if the bigotry had been directed against African Americans or Hispanics.
“OCR has sent a devastating message to Jews — that we don’t care about your legitimate fears or your psychological and physical well-being. OCR has also sent a dangerously encouraging message to the anti-Semites and Israel-bashers on campus — that they can continue with their vicious assaults on Jews and Zionism without fear of any consequences. Essentially, OCR’s message in this decision is that although we will protect the civil rights of other ethnic groups, Jewish students are on their own.
“The battle isn’t over. We’ll continue to fight with all our strength to make sure that Jewish students at UCI and throughout the U.S. can get their college education in a safe and hospitable environment, without fearing that they’ll be harassed, threatened or assaulted because they are Jews and support the State of Israel.
“We urge Jewish organizations and the Jewish community to read the Office for Civil Rights’ decision. Call or e-mail us at the ZOA to obtain a copy. Then speak out publicly and condemn the decision, including to your state and U.S. representatives. Urge your representatives to demand that the Office for Civil Rights vigorously enforce Title VI to protect Jewish students from anti-Semitic harassment and intimidation, and to reconsider its erroneous conclusions about UCI.”
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