The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) strongly praised the U.S. Senate for unanimously passing the bipartisan “Anti-Semitism Awareness Act” on December 1, 2016 – introduced by U.S. Senators Tim Scott (R-SC) and Bob Casey (D-PA) on November 29th – which will improve the enforcement of Title VI of the Civil Rights to protect Jewish students from anti-Semitic harassment and intimidation at federally-funded schools.
The Act would require the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) to consider the U.S. State Department’s outstanding and comprehensive definition of anti-Semitism when the DOE reviews, investigates or decides whether Jewish students’ rights have been violated under Title VI. (A companion bill in the House was introduced by U.S. Reps. Peter J. Roskam (R-IL), Ted Deutch (D-FL), Nita Lowey (D-NY), Eliot Engel (D-NY), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Kay Granger (R-TX), Steve Israel (D-NY), and Chris Smith (R-NJ), the co-Chairs of the Bipartisan Task Force for Combatting Anti-Semitism.)
The State Department’s longstanding definition of anti-Semitism appropriately recognizes that anti-Semitism can be expressed in many ways. It includes not only traditional expressions of Jew-hatred, but also the demonization of Israel (e.g., comparing Israeli policy to that of the Nazis), the imposition of an impossible double standard on Israel, and the delegitimization of Israel (i.e., denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination and denying Israel the right to exist).
The DOE is responsible for enforcing Title VI to prohibit discrimination at federally-funded schools on the basis of race, color, or national origin. The legislation would require the DOE to consider that Title VI might be violated if Jewish students were subjected to a hostile environment engendered by anti-Semitism that is expressed as anti-Israelism or anti-Zionism.
Historically, the DOE did not even enforce Title VI to protect Jewish students from anti-Semitic harassment and intimidation. The agency considered Jews to be strictly a religious group and not also an ethnic group, and thus outside the protections of the law.
But after a six-year battle led by the ZOA, the DOE changed its interpretation of the law in 2010. The DOE recognized that Jewish students who face discrimination based on their actual or perceived ancestry or ethnic characteristics were entitled to the protections of Title VI.
Morton A. Klein, the ZOA’s National President, Susan B. Tuchman, Esq., Director of the ZOA’s Center for Law and Justice, and Zach Stern, Managing Director of ZOA Campus, stated, “This legislation is crucial to ensuring that the rights of Jewish students to a safe and welcoming campus environment are fully protected under Title VI. Based on the ZOA’s work with Jewish students on campuses across the country, we know that they are not only enduring ethnic slurs and the vandalism of Jewish property, which few would question as anti-Semitism. They are also facing anti-Semitism expressed as vicious anti-Israelism and anti-Zionism. Hate groups like Students for Justice in Palestine are creating a hostile learning environment for Jewish students, calling for an intifada and for Israel’s destruction. They blame ‘Zionists’ for high tuition and other problems. And they engage in vicious and hurtful name-calling against Jewish students, falsely accusing them of being racists and baby-killers.
“For many years, the State Department has appropriately recognized this kind of conduct as anti-Semitism, and the ZOA has been calling on the DOE to do the same. This legislation will accomplish what we’ve been fighting for. All forms of anti-Semitism cause pain to Jewish students and interfere with their right to a learning environment that is physically and psychologically safe. With this legislation, the DOE will have to take into account all the forms of anti-Semitism that Jewish students are being subjected to, including the anti-Semitism that is expressed as anti-Israelism and anti-Zionism.”
Dan Pollak and Josh London, Co-Directors of the ZOA’s Government Relations Department, stated: “We have been meeting with members of Congress and their staff for many years to ensure that Jewish students are fully protected from all forms of anti-Semitism under Title VI. We are now working with members of the House to urge them to move quickly in passing this much-needed legislation.”