The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) achieved an important legal victory against the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), after the ZOA filed an anti-Semitism complaint against UNC with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR).
In an April 17, 2019 letter to OCR, the ZOA complained that UNC sponsored a one-sided anti-Israel conference on March 22-24, 2019, titled “Conflict over Gaza: People, Politics and Possibilities.” The Conference included an offensive, anti-Semitic performance by a rapper. Days after the conference, swastikas and anti-Semitic flyers were discovered on campus.
The ZOA’s complaint described the rapper’s performance and furnished OCR with a link to a video of the performance. The rapper told the audience, “This is my anti-Semitic song” and advised the audience not to think of Rihanna or Beyoncé when singing it, but instead to “think of Mel Gibson” – the actor whose anti-Semitic rant made headlines in 2006. “Go that anti-Semitic,” the rapper said.
Encouraging the audience to join him – because “I cannot be anti-Semitic alone” – the rapper enlisted the audience’s help in singing repeatedly, “Oh! I’m in love with a Jew.” In the horrifying video, the audience – which presumably included university staff, students, faculty, “scholars” and others – can be heard singing along and laughing.
By letter dated June 25, 2019, OCR notified ZOA Center for Law and Justice Director Susan Tuchman, Esq. and ZOA President Morton Klein that it had opened an investigation into the ZOA’s complaint under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. Title VI prohibits national origin and other forms of discrimination at federally funded programs, and protects Jewish students from anti-Semitic harassment. As a recipient of federal funding, UNC must comply with Title VI.
In a November 6, 2019 resolution letter, OCR informed the ZOA that prior to the completion of OCR’s investigation and prior to OCR making a determination of whether UNC discriminated against Jewish students in violation of Title VI, UNC expressed a willingness to resolve the ZOA’s allegations through a resolution agreement. OCR determined that a resolution agreement would be appropriate.
UNC signed a Resolution Agreement on October 14, 2019. It requires the following:
- UNC must continue to take all steps reasonably designed to ensure that students are not subjected to a hostile environment, and to respond to allegations of anti-Semitic harassment. This includes responding to and investigating all reports of anti-Semitism, and taking all appropriate action following the investigation, including discipline.
- By December 31, 2019, UNC’s Chancellor must issue a statement to all students, faculty and staff that UNC does not tolerate acts of prohibited harassment, including but not limited to anti-Semitic harassment. The statement must encourage students to report any such harassment to UNC.
- UNC must revise its written harassment and discrimination policy to (a) reiterate its commitment to an environment free from prohibited harassment, including anti-Semitic harassment; and (b) include a statement that the harassment of students based on their actual or perceived shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics, including anti-Semitic harassment, may constitute national origin discrimination in violation of Title VI. The revised policy may provide a clear definition of anti-Semitism, and must provide a description of the forms of anti-Semitism that can manifest in the UNC environment.
- UNC must submit its revised policy to OCR for review and approval by October 31, 2019. Once notified of OCR’s approval, UNC must adopt, implement and publish the revised policy on its website and by other means to ensure the information is widely disseminated.
- For each of the next two academic years, UNC must host at least one meeting to provide students, faculty and staff with the opportunity to discuss with UNC administrators any concern they have about incidents of anti-Semitic and other forms of harassment. UNC must take appropriate steps to address any complaints about specific harassment incidents identified during the meetings.
- For the next three academic years, UNC must include in each training/orientation offered to the UNC community a component on anti-Semitic and other forms of harassment. By June 1, 2020, UNC must provide the modified training module to OCR for review and approval. UNC must also provide a statement to OCR confirming that the training module contains a segment on anti-Semitic harassment.
The U.S. Office of Civil Rights will monitor UNC’s implementation of the Resolution Agreement and if necessary, may visit UNC, interview students, faculty and/or staff, and request additional reports or data to determine whether UNC has fulfilled the terms of the Resolution Agreement and is in compliance with Title VI.
ZOA National President Morton A. Klein and Director of ZOA’s Center for Law and Justice Susan B. Tuchman, Esq. commended UNC for cooperating with OCR in resolving the ZOA’s anti-Semitism allegations against the university: “The ZOA is proud to have triggered OCR’s Resolution Agreement with UNC which we believe will secure Jewish students’ legal rights under Title VI to a campus environment that is both physically and psychologically safe.
“UNC has agreed to take concrete, meaningful steps that will make it clear to the entire university community that anti-Semitic harassment is illegal and will not be tolerated. In addition, UNC has committed itself to investigate and effectively address any incidents of anti-Semitic harassment that occur.
“OCR will be monitoring UNC to ensure that it lives up to its obligations.
“This is the right and just result. We at the ZOA are grateful to OCR for its prompt and effective response to ZOA’s legal complaint. OCR has continued to show its commitment to vigorously enforcing our civil rights laws so that Jewish and non-Jewish students who face racial and ethnic harassment and discrimination are provided with the safe and welcoming learning environment that every student deserves.
“ZOA’s important actions and results send a powerful message to universities and colleges throughout the country that the U.S. government will hold them accountable for allowing campus anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism, and/or the physical or emotional harassment of Jewish students.”