The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) praises the 36 Members of Congress who sent a letter to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Thursday, July 8, 2010, expressing concern about the problem of campus anti-Semitism and about whether the Department of Education is enforcing Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to protect Jewish students from anti-Semitic harassment and intimidation. Title VI requires that recipients of federal funding which would include public and almost all private colleges and universities to ensure that their programs and activities are free from racial and ethnic discrimination. (To read the Congressional letter, click here.)
The letter to Secretary Duncan resulted from a briefing for congressional staff on anti-Semitic harassment on college campuses, convened by U.S. Rep. Ron Klein (D-FL), co-chairman of the Congressional Taskforce on Anti-Semitism. Susan Tuchman, Director of the ZOAs Center for Law and Justice, was invited to brief staffers on anti-Semitic harassment on American college campuses and the federal governments role in addressing these incidents. The other speakers were Kenneth Marcus, professor, author and the former Acting Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights; Richard Foltin, Director of National and Legislative Affairs for the American Jewish Committee; and Jeff Rubin, Associate Vice President for Communications for Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life. The briefing drew staffers from approximately 25 congressional offices.
The briefing resulted in the preparation of a letter to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan from the Congressional Taskforce on Anti-Semitism, requesting clarification about how the Education Department is enforcing Title VI in cases of anti-Semitic harassment, intimation and discrimination on U.S. college campuses. The Taskforce circulated the letter among other Members of Congress, seeking their signatures of support.
The letter that 36 Members of Congress signed raises questions about the conclusions that the Department of Educations Office for Civil Rights (OCR) reached in the ZOAs Title VI action on behalf of Jewish students at the University of California, Irvine. In November 2007, OCR concluded that many of the ZOAs allegations were beyond the scope of OCRs authority under Title VI, because the allegations were not based on the students national origin. The congressional letter expresses concern because we believe that OCRs ruling is inconsistent with its own policy statements for enforcing Title VI as expressed in recent years. The policy statements, issued by OCR in 2004, clarified that OCR would enforce Title VI in instances of discrimination against groups, such as Jews, that exhibit both religious and ethnic characteristics.
In their letter, the 36 Members of Congress ask Secretary of Education Duncan to clarify the Departments policy for enforcing Title VI before the start of the new school year. The letter states:
College campuses in the United States are meant to be positive, safe and open forums for intellectual expression, conducive to learning. We believe that enforcing Title VI to protect Jewish students who, in rare but highly significant situations, face harassment, intimidation or discrimination based on their ancestral or ethnic characteristics including when it is manifested as anti-Israel or anti-Zionist sentiment that crosses the line into anti-Semitism would help ensure that were preserving the integrity of our higher education system by affording the same protection to all ethnic and racial groups on our college campuses.
In addition to U.S. Rep. Ron Klein, the following 35 Members of Congress signed the letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan: U.S. Reps. Mike Pence (R-IN), co-chairman of the Congressional Taskforce on Anti-Semitism; Eliot Engel (D-NY); Chris Smith (R-NJ ), co-chairman of the Congressional Taskforce on Anti-Semitism; Carolyn Maloney (D-NY); Shelley Berkley (D-NV); Gary Ackerman (D-NY); Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL); Ted Deutch (D-FL): Keith Ellison (D-MN); Jan Schakowsky (D-IL); Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL); Brad Sherman (D-CA); Kendrick Meek (D-FL); Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL); Allyson Schwartz (D-PA); Henry Waxman (D-CA); John Adler (D-NJ); Alan Grayson (D-FL); Kathy Castor (D-FL); Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX); Rush Holt (D-NJ); Jackie Speier (D-CA); Steve Israel (D-NY); Steve Kagen (D-WI); Doug Lamborn (R-CO); Jerrold Nadler (D-NY); Jared Polis (D-CO); Michele Bachmann (R-MN); Anthony Weiner (D-NY); Sander Levin (D-MI); Steve Rothman (D-NJ); Buck McKeon (R-CA); John Yarmuth (D-KY); Adam Schiff (D-CA); and Howard L. Berman (D-CA).
ZOA National President Morton A. Klein praised the 36 Members of Congress for urging the Department of Education to enforce Title VI to protect Jewish students facing anti-Semitic harassment, intimidation and discrimination on their college campuses: Congressman Ron Klein deserves great credit for convening the briefing so that congressional staff could learn more about a serious problem plaguing American college campuses: anti-Semitism that often takes the form of vicious anti-Zionist and anti-Israel sentiment, causing Jewish students to feel harassed, intimidated, and, at times, afraid for their physical safety. The briefing also explored whether the federal government is doing what it can and must do to eradicate the problem. This congressional letter sends a strong message to Secretary Duncan. It also bolsters the concern that the ZOA and 12 other Jewish organizations recently expressed to the Department of Education. In March, a coalition of Jewish groups sent their own letter, urging Secretary Duncan to ensure that Title VI is enforced to protect Jewish students, consistent with the policy statements that the Departments Office for Civil Rights issued in 2004.
Susan B. Tuchman, Esq., the Director of the ZOAs Center for Law and Justice added, We hope that Secretary Duncan will heed the message from us and from Congress and clarify, before the start of the school year, that Jewish students will be guaranteed the same legal protections that are afforded to other ethnic and racial groups, such as Hispanics and African Americans, facing harassment, intimidation and discrimination on their campuses.