ZOA Applauds U.S. Representatives for Demanding Answers from U.S. Education Department Regarding Its Troubling Response To Campus Anti-Semitism
May 29, 2008

The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) applauds Members of the U.S. Congress for their powerful letter to Secretary Margaret Spellings of the U.S. Department of Education, in which they demanded answers about whether the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is enforcing Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI) to protect Jewish college students from campus anti-Semitism. In the letter to Secretary Spellings dated April 30, 2008, Representatives Brad Sherman (D-CA), Linda Sanchez (D-CA), Steven Rothman (D-NJ), Allyson Schwartz (D-PA), Robert Wexler (D-FL), and Shelley Berkley (R-NV) questioned the Department of Education’s decision that it lacked jurisdiction over many of the allegations of the complaint that the ZOA had filed under Title VI on behalf of Jewish students at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) who were facing anti-Semitic harassment, intimidation and discrimination on the campus. These six Members of Congress expressed their concern that “[t]his reversed OCR [Office for Civil Rights] policy, as clarified in 2004, of protecting Jews against anti-Semitism” (emphasis in original). (To read the Congress Members’ letter, please click here.)

These Congressional Members noted that in the ZOA’s case against UCI, OCR had now decided that it “did not have the authority under Title VI to pursue most of the alleged claims of discrimination.” The basis for OCR’s decision was that it did not consider Title VI – which prohibits discrimination based on “race, color, or national origin” – to apply to anti-Semitism.

U.S. Representatives Sherman, Sanchez, Rothman, Schwartz, Wexler and Berkley disagree with OCR’s current interpretation of the law, declaring that “Jewish students are entitled to protection under Title VI.” They noted that “[u]nder the federal courts’ interpretations of various civil rights statutes, Jews are both a racial and a national origin group.” In addition, “federal courts have held that in the context of civil rights legislation, national origin groups are those with common ethnic characteristics.” Since Jews “share a common national origin and common ethnic characteristics,” they “are a national origin group.” They are thus entitled to the protections under Title VI.

These Members of Congress noted that race and national origin concepts “may be subject to debate in other contexts.” But in enforcing a civil rights law such as Title VI, OCR “has a statutory responsibility to interpret these concepts broadly and expansively.” According to these U.S. Representatives, if the U.S. Supreme Court were to face the issue of whether Jews are protected under Title VI, the Court “would find that Title VI protects Jewish students against anti-Semitism.”

According to these six Members of Congress, OCR’s conclusions in the ZOA’s case against UCI are “inconsistent with its prior policy statements. In 2004, OCR issued a series of policy statements announcing that it would assert jurisdiction under Title VI to pursue claims alleging harassment of Jewish students.” According to these U.S. Representatives, this 2004 interpretation of Title VI “was endorsed by the United States Commission on Civil Rights,” which “recommended that OCR vigorously enforce Title VI to ensure that Jewish students are protected from anti-Semitic harassment due to the seriousness of the problems Jewish students were facing on school campuses.”

Representatives Sherman, Sanchez, Rothman, Schwartz, Wexler and Berkley asked Secretary Spellings to “provide timely responses” to two questions:

(1) “Is it OCR’s current policy that Jewish students are protected against racial and ethnic harassment, intimidation, and discrimination under Title VI, regardless of whether other forms of discrimination are alleged

(2) “If OCR has narrowed its policy for enforcing Title VI to protect against anti-Semitic harassment, intimidation, and discrimination in any way since the fall of 2004, what is the explanation for such a change in policy?”

Morton A. Klein, the ZOA’s National President, and Susan B. Tuchman, Esq., the Director of the ZOA’s Center for Law and Justice, expressed their appreciation and gratitude to these six Members of the U.S. Congress who are plainly concerned about the problem of campus anti-Semitism and whether the Department of Education is enforcing the law to ensure that Jewish students receive the protections they need: “We thank these esteemed Members of Congress for raising legitimate questions about whether the Department of Education is affording Jewish students the protections of Title VI when they face anti-Semitic harassment, intimidation and discrimination on their campuses. We have been fighting long and hard to ensure that OCR vigorously enforces the law to protect against anti-Semitism. We provided testimony to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights when it held its first-ever hearing on campus anti-Semitism. We have helped publicize the Commission’s public campaign to end campus anti-Semitism, including by providing a link on our own Web site to the Commission’s Internet campaign. And we have been bringing these serious issues to the public’s attention in articles, letters, speeches, petitions and ads.

“This past February, U.S. Senators Arlen Specter (R-PA), Jon Kyl (R-AZ), and Sam Brownback (R-KS) – all three members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Senator Specter the Ranking Member – sent their own powerful letter to Secretary Spellings raising similar concerns about how the Office for Civil Rights handled the ZOA’s Title VI case against UCI, and about how OCR is interpreting Title VI.

“Plainly, the concerns about whether Title VI is being enforced to protect against campus anti-Semitism transcend party affiliation. Both Republican and Democratic Members of the U.S. Congress have shown that they want to ensure that Jewish students are protected when they are harassed or intimidated on their campuses. The Department of Education should be responding to the concerns raised by Members of both the House and the Senate by recognizing that it was wrong to narrow the protections of Title VI. he Department should make clear that Jewish students are a racial and national origin group entitled to Title VI’s protections, and that OCR should vigorously enforce the law to protect them.

“African Americans, Hispanics and other racial and ethnic minorities are protected from harassment and discrimination under Title VI. Jewish students deserve the same protection. Attacks against them dare not be ignored.”

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