Up until two weeks ago, Jewish students across the nation were not protected against racially charged attacks on campus.
For close to seven years, the Office of Civil Rights, mandated to enforce the Title VI provisions of the1964 Civil Rights Act, failed to provide any guidelines for the protection of Jewish students from racially charged assaults. Title VI prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in any programs or activities receiving federal financial assistance. This of course included state universities .
But for years the OCR has failed to include antisemitic attacks on Jewish students because it could not, or rather would not, concede that Jewish students fell within the embrace of the term ” race” and would not expand the meaning of “race, color or national origin” to include religion. Nor was it prepared to apply its criteria to anti Zionist speeches and actions, even when such activities clearly crossed the line into outright attacks on Jews.
The reasons for this are a mixture of timidity, confusion and obfuscation on the part of the OCR. Claiming it could not come to a satisfactory definition of who is a Jew, they sat on their hands and did nothing, while attacks and intimidation by Muslim students against Jewish spiraled into a virtual pandemic on a number of college campuses.
But on October 26, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan issued a letter that in effect applies Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to the protection of Jewish students from anti-Semitism on campuses:
” While Title VI does not cover discrimination based solely on religion,14 groups that face discrimination on the basis of actual or perceived shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics may not be denied protection under Title VI on the ground that they also share a common faith. These principles apply not just to Jewish students, but also to students from any discrete religious group that shares, or is perceived to share, ancestry or ethnic characteristics (e.g., Muslims or Sikhs). Thus, harassment against students who are members of any religious group triggers a school’s Title VI responsibilities when the harassment is based on the group’s actual or perceived shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics, rather than solely on its members’ religious practices.”
Under the Department of Education new guidelines, the Civil Rights Act can now be invoked if anti-Jewish behavior is considered to be based on shared ethnic characteristics.
The government’s failure to address the outrages at certain California campuses had created a significant anomaly in the law, one in which Jews were treated differently from virtually any other group. African-Americans, Arabs, Hispanics, women, older students, and even Boy Scouts who charge their schools with discrimination formerly could have their cases investigated by the federal government.
Yet that was not the case for Jewish students. The incidents at U.C. Irvine in Southern California alone over the past seven years speak for themselves. Jewish students have been physically and verbally assaulted, causing some to fear wearing anything identifying them as Jews or pro-Israel; speakers have compared Jews to Nazis and to Satan operating in the shadows; posters have depicted the Star of David dripping with blood and equating it with the swastika; a Holocaust memorial was destroyed; and swastikas have defaced campus property. The atmosphere of hate culminated with an attack on February 8 of this year when Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Michael Oren, addressing a public gathering on campus, was repeatedly interrupted by jeering Muslim students who launched an unseemly cocktail of antisemitic and anti-Zionist slurs, refused to allow him to deliver his remarks. Eventually eleven Muslim students were arrested by campus police for disturbing the peace.
Yet the U.C. Irvine Administration, which had for years labeled the antisemitic slurs as free speech had done little to address the problem. The Michael Oren incident however seemed to induce movement. In August the Muslim Student Union was banned for the entire succeeding academic year.
But that wasn’t the end of the story. Within a month, the administration, bowing to pressure from a variety of camps groups, agreed to commute the expulsion to one semester. Within a few weeks a new organization Alkalima: Muslim students at UCI had sprung up sporting essentially the same identity as the banned Muslim Student Union. Already this new organization is bringing to campus the same antisemitic/ anti-Zionist programming of its predecessor.
This action should be followed immediately by other by swift rebukes and condemnations at other troubled campuses including U.C. Berkeley, U.C. Santa Cruz and U.C. Santa Barbara. It is hoped that it will inspire more determined responses to the rise of anti-Semitism on other North American campuses such as Concordia and York in Canada and Columbia in New York.