ZOA, Cong. Sherman/Sen. Specter
Played Key Role
The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) praised the U.S. Department of Education today for signaling an historic breakthrough: Colleges and universities receiving any federal funding would now be required to protect Jewish students from anti-Semitic harassment and discrimination under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Progress toward that policy change was reported in a press release issued on October 4 by Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA). Congressman Sherman stated that after speaking with Education Secretary Arne Duncan, the Congressman is more than cautiously optimistic that the Department of Education will begin enforcing Title VI to protect Jewish students. Congressman Sherman specifically acknowledged the ZOAs contribution to this result and cited comments from ZOA National President Morton A. Klein who noted, The ZOA is proud to have spent many years working side by side with Congressman Sherman to finally ensure that Jewish students are afforded the same protection from harassment, intimidation and discrimination that other ethnic and racial groups have enjoyed since 1964 under Title VI.
The need for congressional action was made clear after the ZOA filed a Title VI complaint in the fall of 2004, on behalf of Jewish students at the University of California, Irvine. The complaint sought to rectify years of severe and persistent anti-Semitic harassment that the university administration had failed to address. The Department of Educations Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is charged with enforcing Title VI, and OCR decided that an investigation into the ZOAs allegations was warranted. But soon after the investigation was underway, there was a change in leadership at OCR, which resulted in a change in OCRs Title VI policy. OCR returned to a policy of denying Title VI protection to Jewish students; the agency viewed Jews simply as a religious group and not also an ethnic group entitled to be protected under the law which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin. As a result, OCR dismissed the ZOAs complaint, concluding that the agency lacked jurisdiction over many of the ZOAs allegations. The ZOA appealed OCRs decision in April 2008; the appeal is still pending.
Kenneth L. Marcus, a visiting professor at Baruch College/CUNY and a Director at the Institute for Jewish & Community Research, wrote a revealing article in the September 2010 issue of Commentary magazine, singling out the ZOAs work numerous times, and citing the ZOAs Title VI complaint against UC Irvine for its extraordinary specificity. Mr. Marcus article also disclosed that despite the decision to dismiss the ZOAs case, OCR investigators had in fact concluded that the ZOA was right that Irvine students faced levels of discrimination that were so severe, pervasive, or objectively offensive as to limit their educational opportunities. But the investigators conclusions were overruled by OCR headquarters in Washington, D.C., according to the Commentary article, which was determined not to afford Jews the protections of Title VI.
Since OCRs decision in the UC Irvine case, the ZOA has worked hard to ensure that Jewish students have the same legal protection from harassment, intimidation and discrimination that has been guaranteed to other ethnic and racial groups such as African American and Hispanic students since 1964, when Title VI was enacted. These efforts have included working with members of Congress, including Congressman Sherman and U.S. Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA); and educating the public through letters, articles, speeches, press releases, ads and petitions about campus anti-Semitism and the lack of legal protection for Jewish students under Title VI. The ZOA also played a key role in rallying a coalition of Jewish groups to sign a letter to Secretary Duncan, sent in March 2010, urging the Education Department to protect Jewish students from anti-Semitic harassment under Title VI. In June 2010, Susan Tuchman, Director of the ZOAs Center for Law and Justice, and others briefed congressional members and their staff on campus anti-Semitism and the federal governments role in addressing the problem. The briefing and ZOAs follow-up efforts led to letters from 38 members of Congress to Secretary Duncan, urging the Education Department to enforce Title VI to protect Jewish students. These members of Congress specifically asked Secretary Duncan to clarify the Departments Title VI policy before the start of this school year. Secretary Duncans report to Congressman Sherman strongly signals that the Education Department will be affording Jewish students the protections of Title VI.
Morton A. Klein, the ZOAs National President, and Susan B. Tuchman, Esq., the Director of the ZOAs Center for Law and Justice, praised this positive development: We are very encouraged to learn that the U.S. Department of Education is progressing toward the critical goal of ensuring that Jewish students have the legal protection they need and deserve. We urge Secretary Duncan to make it crystal clear that the Education Department and its Office for Civil Rights will vigorously enforce Title VI to protect Jewish students facing harassment and discrimination on their campuses, and to publicize that policy once its finalized.
But the Departments return to its 2004 policy of protecting Jewish students under Title VI wont be enough. Whether colleges and universities must respond to severe and persistent campus anti-Semitism shouldnt depend on who happens to be leading the federal agency that enforces Title VI. The law itself must clearly obligate colleges and universities to respond when a Jewish student is harassed or discriminated against. Thats why we will continue to work with Congressman Sherman and Senator Specter to ensure the passage of the bill that they recently introduced, which would amend Title VI so that Jewish students will, without question, be protected.