Task Force Faults ADL, Hillel, AJ Committee
And The Jewish Federation For
Failing To Hold UC Irvine Accountable
A Task Force of community leaders, formed approximately one year ago to investigate allegations of anti-Semitism at the University of California, Irvine (UCI), issued a 34-page report this month. (To read the report, click here.) The report confirmed the allegations that the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) made more than three years ago, in a complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. The ZOA’s complaint contended that Jewish students had been repeatedly harassed and intimidated on the campus, but that the UCI administration had failed to redress the problem in violation of federal law.
The Task Force was initially sponsored by the Hillel Foundation of Orange County, and was comprised of academic, professional and religious leaders in the community. Only months later, Hillel dropped its sponsorship of the Task Force, stating that the Task Force was “not integral to its mission.” Given the volume of data and testimony already collected by that point, the Task Force decided to continue without Hillel’s sponsorship. It expanded its membership by adding distinguished Jewish and non-Jewish members of the community. The Task Force’s stated objective was to issue a thorough and objective report, with findings and recommendations made to the community and UCI administration by years end.
According to its report, the Task Force spent approximately 80 hours conducting interviews of students, UCI faculty and administrators, and members of the community. It reviewed documents and observed programs on campus first-hand.
Among the Task Force’s findings were:
- UCI’s Chancellor “has failed to exercise his moral authority as an educator and leader by abrogating his leadership responsibilities
There is no indication that the University is at all concerned about the disconnect between campus values and the values of the greater society.”
- The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Hillel, the American Jewish Committee, and the Jewish Federation of Orange County “have not effectively represented the Jewish Community or Jewish students at UCI,” because they “have not held the University and its leadership accountable for its failure to support an environment conducive to all students.” The Task Force specifically exempted the ZOA from these conclusions.
- Anti-Semitic acts on the UCI campus “are real and well documented. Jewish students have been harassed. Hate speech has been unrelenting.”
- The Muslim Student Union, a registered student group at UCI that is responsible for regularly sponsoring anti-Semitic and anti-Israel speakers and programs on campus, “is agenda driven and unchecked by the bounds of propriety. It allies and identifies itself with terrorist groups that are enemies of the United States.”
- “The Chancellor should publicly identify and denounce hate speech when it occurs” on his campus.
- “Community leaders should hold the University responsible for its actions, non-actions, and programs.”
Significantly, the Task Force also recommended that Jewish students “consider enrolling elsewhere unless and until tangible changes are made.” According to the Task Force, “[i]t is incumbent on UCI to make itself a hospitable environment, not the Jewish students.”
Six pages of the Report contain an Addendum that focuses exclusively on the outcome of the government investigation into UCI’s conduct, which was triggered by the complaint that the ZOA filed on behalf of Jewish students at UCI under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI). That complaint was filed in October 2004, with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR). It took almost three years for OCR to issue its decision. Shockingly, OCR concluded that there was insufficient evidence to hold UCI accountable under Title VI.
The Task Force noted that OCR “applied narrow legally technical analysis about whether UCI violated Title VI.” As to every allegation of harassment, intimidation and discrimination that OCR cited in its decision, the Task Force concluded that “there is evidence to support the fact that these 26 allegations are true and did occur at” UCI. In contrast to the decision reached by OCR, the Task Force concluded that “the University has done little if anything, except for token actions after each [anti-Semitic] incident, to help prevent, discourage, curtail or punish the perpetrators of these anti-Semitic activities on campus.”
Susan Tuchman, Esq., the Director of the ZOA’s Center for Law and Justice, applauded the Task Force’s Report: “The Office for Civil Rights’ decision overlooked the overwhelming evidence of anti-Semitic harassment and intimidation on the UCI campus, and gave UCI officials a pass on having to correct those problems. The decision also defied the recommendations of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights — that OCR should vigorously enforce Title VI to make sure that Jewish students are protected from anti-Semitic harassment. Fortunately, this group of dedicated community leaders reached a conclusion that was based on the evidence. The Task Force verified the ZOA’s allegations in its Title VI complaint — that Jewish students have been subject to physical and verbal harassment, and that the UCI administration has failed to address the problem. The Task Force’s conclusions are vindication for the Jewish students who supported the ZOA’s legal effort.
“We appreciate the efforts of the Task Force and hope that UCI will take their recommendations seriously. UCI’s leadership should stop remaining silent and start publicly denouncing the hateful anti-Semitic speech that occurs on the campus. It should stop selectively enforcing its rules and regulations. And it should be sending a clear message to the university community that it is committed to vigorous debate and discourse conducted civilly and respectfully, without resorting to lies and anti-Semitic bigotry. As the Task Force said, it’s UCI’s obligation to make sure that the campus is a safe and welcoming place for Jewish students; the burden is not on the students themselves.”
Morton A. Klein, the ZOA’s National President, commended the Task Force for its hard work, and for holding members of the Jewish community accountable for failing to press UCI to respond to Jewish students’ concerns: “The Task Force noted that one would typically look to groups like the ADL, Hillel, the American Jewish Committee, and the Jewish Federation for leadership on matters of anti-Semitic hate and bigotry. But after the ZOA filed its Title VI complaint, these groups did not support our effort. They denigrated it. The ADL publicly condemned the ZOA for using a legitimate legal tool to help bring about positive changes for Jewish students, when all other efforts had been tried and failed. And the ADL publicly minimized the impact that the legal effort had on the campus climate for Jewish students, even though members of the UCI community have reported to us their view that it is the ZOA’s legal effort that has caused the UCI administration to be more sensitive to Jewish students’ concerns.
“Hillel’s Executive Director publicly questioned the veracity of some of the allegations in the complaint, even though he never did so privately and in fact, had privately applauded the ZOA’s actions. Last June, the American Jewish Committee honored UCI’s Chancellor, Michael Drake, by making him the keynote speaker at their annual dinner in Orange County, even though this organization knew all of the details about the Chancellor’s failure to respond to Jewish students’ concerns. Recently, we learned that Hillel has invited Chancellor Drake to speak as an ‘innovator and ‘visionary’ at its 2008 Summit on ‘Imagining a More Civil Society’ — even though Hillel is well aware that the Chancellor is hardly a model for providing a civil, tolerant and respectful environment for Jewish students on his own campus. In fact, last February, Hillel’s Executive Director in Orange County noted publicly that Jewish students at UCI legitimately feared for their physical safety.
“As the Task Force recognized, groups like the ADL, Hillel, the American Jewish Committee, and the Jewish Federation need to modify their behavior. They must start making it crystal clear to universities like UCI that they will not tolerate anti-Semitic bigotry, and that university leadership must start dealing with this serious problem forcefully and unequivocally.
“We at the ZOA are continuing to fight on behalf of students who face anti-Semitic bigotry at UCI and other campuses. The ZOA has contacted several key members of the U.S. Congress who agree that OCR’s decision is both inappropriate and troubling. They are pursuing the matter to make sure that the rights of Jewish students are protected.”