ZOA Played Important Role
The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) hailed the introduction of legislation which will finally require that Jewish students be protected from harassment, intimidation and discrimination under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Announced last Friday, September 24, 2010, by friends of the ZOA U.S. Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA) and U.S. Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA) the legislation would add protection from religious discrimination to Title VI, which presently prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin. (Congressman Elliot Engel [D-NY] is an original cosponsor of Congressman Shermans legislation.) The ZOA is proud and pleased to report that we have been communicating regularly with Senator Specter, Congressman Brad Sherman and their respective staff members, as well as with other members of Congress, to ensure that Jewish students get the legal protection they need and deserve.
The ZOA was the primary force behind the advocacy efforts that led to the Sherman-Specter bill. For almost three years, the ZOA has worked with Senator Specter, Congressman Sherman, and other members of Congress, educating them about the harassment and intimidation that Jewish students have been facing on college campuses across the country, and about the failure of the law to afford Jews the same legal protections as other ethnic and racial groups.
The ZOA assumed a leadership role in fighting campus anti-Semitism and Israel-bashing following the landmark civil rights case that the ZOA initiated on behalf of Jewish students at the University of California, Irvine (UCI). Filed in October 2004 with the U.S. Department of Educations Office for Civil Rights (OCR), the ZOAs complaint detailed the years of harassment, intimidation and discrimination that Jewish students at UCI had been facing on campus. Despite numerous complaints to UCI administrators, Jewish students contended that the University had ignored their concerns or made token efforts to address them.
At the time that the ZOA filed this complaint, OCR had clarified its policy for enforcing Title VI. The agency had concluded that Title VI applied to religious groups that also share ethnic characteristics, such as Jews. Based on this policy clarification, OCR decided to investigate the ZOAs complaint the first case of anti-Semitism that OCR had ever agreed to investigate under Title VI. UCI took the position that Title VI did not apply to the ZOAs allegations of campus anti-Semitism, and thus that the university had no obligation under Title VI to rectify the pattern of harassment and intimidation that Jewish students were facing.
Soon after the investigation ensued, the leadership at OCR changed, resulting in a change in the agencys Title VI policy. OCR reverted back to its policy of denying Title VI protection to Jewish students, perceiving Jews as simply a religious group and not also an ethnic group that would be protected from racial or national origin discrimination under Title VI. As a result, despite overwhelming evidence that Jewish students were being subjected to a hostile anti-Semitic environment at UC Irvine, and that the university was failing to respond adequately to the problem, OCR dismissed the ZOAs complaint, concluding that many of the ZOAs allegations were outside the agencys jurisdiction. The ZOAs appeal of that decision has been pending at OCR headquarters since April 2008. Even with new OCR leadership under the Obama administration, the policy of denying Jews the protections of Title VI has not changed.
Since OCRs decision in the UCI case, the ZOA has been advocating for Jewish students to be protected under Title VI, consistent with OCRs 2004 policy clarification. Based on the ZOAs advocacy efforts, Senator Specter wrote several letters to the Secretary of Education, expressing concern about the decision in the ZOAs case and urging that OCR return to its short-lived policy of protecting Jewish students under Title VI. In his February 2010 letter, Senator Specter concluded with a handwritten note: I hope we can agree the statute [Title VI] covers Jewish students without additional legislation. Congressman Sherman also sent several letters to the Secretary of Education, and met with staff from the Education Department, urging that Title VI be interpreted to protect Jewish students.
For years, the ZOA has also enlisted the support of partners such as the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the umbrella group representing 52 national Jewish groups across the religious and political spectrums. Triggered by the ZOAs efforts, the Presidents Conference wrote to Stephanie Monroe, then-head of OCR, in February 2008, urging OCR to reconsider its decision in the ZOAs case against UCI, because its was based on an overly restrictive reading of Title VI that we believe could have serious consequences. The Presidents Conference informed Assistant Secretary Monroe that the decision will affect Jewish students not only at UCI, but also at other colleges and universities across the United States.
The ZOA has also been helping to educate congressional members and their staff about anti-Semitism on American college campuses and the federal governments role in addressing the problem. At the ZOAs annual Advocacy Mission to Washington, D.C. last April, campus anti-Semitism and Title VI protection for Jewish students were a centerpiece of the ZOAs advocacy efforts. ZOA activists from 19 states including dozens of students urged members of Congress to call on the Department of Education to ensure that its Office for Civil Rights vigorously enforces Title VI to protect Jewish students.
Soon thereafter, in June 2010, Congressman Ron Klein (D-FL), co-chair of the Congressional Taskforce Against Anti-Semitism, convened a briefing on campus anti-Semitism and the federal governments role in addressing the problem. At Congressman Kleins invitation, Susan Tuchman, the Director of the ZOAs Center for Law and Justice, briefed staffers on the problems that Jewish students have been facing on their campuses, and the lack of legal protection under Title VI. Based on the information furnished at the briefing by the ZOA and others, 38 members of Congress wrote to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, expressing concern about campus anti-Semitism and urging the Department of Education to enforce Title VI to protect Jewish students.
The ZOA has also helped spearhead the efforts of a coalition of Jewish organizations to ensure that Jewish students are protected under Title VI. In a letter initially drafted by the ZOA, 12 Jewish organizations joined the ZOA in signing a letter to Secretary Duncan in March 2010, urging him to clarify that OCR has clear authority to investigate and remedy instances of harassment and intimidation against Jewish students, and to issue a directive that OCR will vigorously enforce the law to ensure that Jewish students are protected.
In addition, for years, through letters, articles, speeches, press releases, ads and petitions, the ZOA has been the leader in educating the public about the serious problems that Jewish students have been facing on campuses across the country. The ZOA has also shed the light on the legal loophole under Title VI that essentially has allowed colleges and universities to ignore anti-Semitic bigotry on their campuses.
Morton A. Klein, the ZOAs National President, and Susan B. Tuchman, Esq., the Director of the ZOAs Center for Law and Justice, praised Senator Specter and Congressman Sherman for taking a leadership role in ensuring that Jewish students finally have the same legal protections that are already afforded to other minority groups facing harassment and intimidation: From the moment that the ZOA provided them with information about the UCI case in particular, and more generally, about what Jewish students have been facing on other campuses, Senator Specter and Congressman Sherman have dedicated themselves to making sure that the Department of Education does what it can and should be doing enforcing the law so that Jewish students are protected from harassment and intimidation on their campuses.
The Specter-Sherman bill mentions just a few of the many troubling incidents of anti-Semitism that highlight the need for this amendment to Title VI. At the University of North Dakota, for example, a student was harassed by fellow students with anti-Semitic slurs and was shot at with a pellet gun. The bill doesnt mention the problems that have plagued the University of California, Berkeley. Last March, a Jewish student and pro-Israel activist was holding a sign at a pro-Israel rally which said, Israel Wants Peace. She was rammed from behind with a filled shopping cart. The attack was completely unprovoked, and the victim required medical attention.
The Specter-Sherman bill notes that at UC Irvine, a Holocaust memorial was destroyed; posters have depicted women in traditional Muslim garb saying, God bless Hiller; swastikas have defaced campus property; and a Jewish student was told to Go back to Russia where you came from. Not mentioned in the bill is that Jewish students have been threatened and physically assaulted at UCI, and that at least two students left UCI and transferred elsewhere because they could no longer endure the hostile environment. Also not mentioned are the anti-Semitic and Israel-bashing events that have been sponsored on a regular basis at UCI. At one speech in May 2009, the speaker a frequent guest at UCI compared Jews to Satan. In May 2010, this speaker referred to Jews as the new Nazis.
In addition to claiming that it had no obligation to protect Jewish students under Title VI, UCI has denied that anti-Semitism has ever even been a problem on the campus, touting OCRs dismissal of the ZOAs case as proof. But in a comprehensive article in the September 2010 edition of Commentary magazine A Blind Eye to Campus Anti-Semitism? Kenneth L. Marcus challenges UCIs contention and, indeed, OCRs handling of the ZOAs case. Mr. Marcus is the former head of OCR; it was under his leadership that OCR pledged in 2004 to enforce Title VI to protect Jewish students. Mr. Marcus singled out the ZOAs work numerous times throughout the article, noting that the ZOAs complaint against UCI detailed the problems that Jewish students faced with extraordinary specificity. Mr. Marcus also reported that OCRs regional staff had actually concluded that the ZOA was right that Irvine students faced levels of discrimination that were so severe, pervasive, or objectionably offensive as to limit their educational opportunities, thus undoing UCIs claims. The article documents that OCR headquarters in Washington, D.C. overruled this conclusion, viewing Jews strictly as a religious group not entitled to the protection of Title VI. In addition to his breakthrough reporting and his groundbreaking work at OCR, Mr. Marcus has continued to be a tireless advocate for Jewish students right to be protected under Title VI.
The introduction of this important legislation by Senator Specter and Congressman Sherman is the first step to fixing the gap in the law that, right now, permits colleges and universities to ignore when Jewish students are being harassed or discriminated against. We applaud Senator Specter and Congressman Sherman for introducing the legislation and for all their other efforts on this issue. The ZOA urges all members of Congress to throw their support behind the legislation and get it passed quickly, so that Jewish students can get their education in an environment that is safe, welcoming and conducive to learning.