ZOAs Title VI Campaign
The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) praised the U.S. Department of Educations Office for Civil Rights (OCR) today, for opening an investigation into a complaint alleging a hostile environment for Jewish students at the University of California, Santa Cruz, in violation of the newly-interpreted Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Historically, OCR was not interpreting and enforcing Title VI to protect Jewish students. But in October 2010, after a six-year campaign by the ZOA, OCR declared that it would apply and enforce Title VI to protect Jewish students from anti-Semitic harassment and intimidation.
The Title VI complaint was filed in June 2009, by Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, a lecturer in Hebrew at UC Santa Cruz. It alleges that professors, academic departments and residential colleges at the university are promot[ing] and encourag[ing] anti-Israel, anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish views and behavior, much of which is based on either misleading information or outright falsehoods. As a result, Jewish students have felt emotionally and intellectually harassed and intimidated, yet the university has failed to rectify the problems, despite repeated requests to do so. By a letter dated March 7, 2011 just months after issuing its new policy interpreting Title VI to protect Jewish students OCR notified Professor Rossman-Benjamin that it will exercise jurisdiction over the complaints allegations and that the agency would begin the complaint resolution process.
The 29-page complaint, alleging a long-standing and pervasive pattern of discrimination against Jewish students at UC Santa Cruz, includes the following charges:
· That rhetoric heard in classrooms and at numerous events sponsored and funded by academic and administrative units at UC Santa Cruz goes beyond legitimate criticism of Israel. The rhetoric demonizes Israel, compares contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis, calls for the dismantling of the Jewish State, and holds Israel to an impossible double standard all of which crosses the line into anti-Semitism, according to the standards employed by the U.S. government.
· That Israel-bashing occurs in classes that have nothing to do with Israel, Zionism or the conflict in the Middle East. In addition, Israel-bashing is sponsored by academic departments that have no relation to the subject matter of Israel, Zionism or the Middle East.
· That these campus problems are made worse by the fact that professors, academic departments and [residential] colleges actively discourage students from learning about other legitimate scholarly perspectives that are not anti-Israel. They refuse themselves to sponsor speakers and events that are not anti-Israel, or even to let their students know that such speakers and events are scheduled to occur when others sponsor them. The complaint alleges that [o]ne professor went so far as to tear down flyers announcing an event about Palestinian children being trained as suicide bombers. This professors vandalism violated university rules, but the UC Santa Cruz administration saw nothing wrong with her conduct.
The Title VI complaint details the impact that the academic and university-sponsored Israel-bashing has had on Jewish students. Students have felt emotionally and intellectually harassed and intimidated, to the point that they are reluctant or afraid to express a view that is not anti-Israel. Some students have stayed away from courses that they would otherwise be interested in taking, because they know that the courses will be biased against Israel and intolerant of another legitimate point of view. One student left her class in tears after she had shared her research paper on the topic of Zionism; she was chastised by fellow classmates and accused of being a Nazi, yet her professor stayed silent throughout the entire attack she endured. Another student, according to the Title VI complaint, described feeling personally assaulted by her professor when she tried to defend Israel from her professors attacks.
The complaint alleges that the hostile environment for Jewish students has been made worse by the fact that no other racial or national origin group on campus has been subjected by faculty or administrators to such hostile and demonizing criticism. Only Israel and Zionists have been singled out. Many Jewish students see this flagrant double standard as a kind of institutional discrimination that is anti-Semitic in effect if not intent.
Finally, the complaint documents the many efforts that have been made since 2001to get the university to rectify the problems that Jewish students have been facing; all have been unsuccessful, according to the Title VI complaint. Jewish students have complained. In addition, Professor Rossman-Benjamin and other faculty brought their concerns to three UC Santa Cruz Chancellors, the Executive Vice Chancellor, several deans and provosts, the heads of more than 10 departments and research groups at UC Santa Cruz, the Academic Senate, members of two Senate Executive Committees, and members of many Academic Senate committees all without success. Not only did they fail to adequately address the complaints; Professor Rossman-Benjamin and other faculty were actually vilified by their colleagues for having raised legitimate concerns.
Morton A. Klein, the ZOAs National President, and Susan B. Tuchman, Esq., the director of the ZOAs Center for Law and Justice, praised OCR for exercising jurisdiction over Professor Rossman-Benjamins complaint and opening an investigation under Title VI into the allegations of anti-Semitic hostility at UC Santa Cruz: After a six-year ZOA campaign, OCR finally issued a policy letter last October, in which it declared that Jewish students are protected from anti-Semitic harassment and intimidation under Title VI. The ZOA fought hard for this policy, so that Jewish students facing discrimination at their schools would have the same legal protections that other ethnic and racial groups have had since 1964, when Title VI was enacted. Like Professor Rossman-Benjamin and other faculty, the ZOA made several efforts to get UC Santa Cruz to rectify the hostilities that Jewish students were facing. But administrators simply justified what was happening.
We applaud OCR for taking steps to enforce its new Title VI policy. Importantly, OCR is showing an understanding and appreciation of the fact that anti-Zionist and anti-Israel sentiment can cross the line into anti-Semitism, that such sentiment can create a hostile and threatening environment for Jewish students, and that publicly-funded schools are obligated under Title VI to fix the problem.
We urge OCR to conduct a thorough investigation into what has been going on at UC Santa Cruz for years, and to hold the university accountable, if it is shown that the university has failed to rectify campus anti-Semitism. Violators of Title VI must fix the hostile environment and take systemic steps to ensure that it doesnt recur, or they risk losing their federal funding. We commend Professor Rossman-Benjamin and other faculty who have stood up for Jewish students and worked so hard to ensure that they have a campus environment that every student needs and deserves: one that is safe and conducive to learning.