By Edward S. Beck, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East
April 2, 2010
March 19, 2010: ( New York) Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME ), has joined with a dozen other groups with a letter to US Secretary to Arne Duncan calling for him to enforce existing law to ensure that Jewish students are protected from anti-Semitic harassment, intimidation and discrimination on Campus. The letter urged Secretary Duncan to clarify the authority of the Department's Office for Civil Rights to protect Jewish students who are threatened, harassed, or intimidated on their campuses because of their religion or ethnic identity.
SPME Legal Task Force Chair Kenneth L. Marcus commented, "This is a hugely important letter, because it places the weight of the organized Jewish community behind efforts to reverse the Obama administration's recent statement that it would not extend civil rights protections to Jewish students under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. What we're asking for is to place Jewish students on an equal footing with all other groups." Marcus, who formerly headed the Office for Civil Rights, now teaches at Baruch College and is a director at the Institute for Jewish & Community Research.
Professor Peter Haas, Abba Hillel Silver Professor of Judaic Studies and Chair of the Department of Religion who serves as SPME President reflected, " For years Jewish students, faculty and staff on U. S. campuses have fully participated in university life without having to face discrimination because of their ethnic or religious identity. This is now changing with the increasingly strident and emotionally uncontrolled expressions of ideological hatred toward Israel by a minority of Palestinian activists. Where these activists have appeared, they have created around them an intimidating atmosphere of ethnic and religious hated against Jews. In this, of course, they are importing to our campuses the worst aspects of Middle Eastern political discourse. The move to offer Jewish students, faculty and staff, more explicit legal protection from these outbursts is most welcome."
In 2004, the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights announced it would interpret its mandate to include jurisdiction over claims alleging the harassment of Jewish students. Marcus authored that policy while heading the Office for Civil Rights Unfortunately since then OCR has narrowed the policy, casting doubt on whether the Department would investigate anti-Semitic harassment absent allegations that included other forms of discrimination over which OCR has explicit jurisdiction. In addition to SPME, the organizations that signed the letter are: American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, American Jewish Committee, American Jewish Congress, Anti-Defamation League, B'nai B'rith International, Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, Institute for Jewish and Community Research, Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Jewish War Veterans of the USA, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, and the Zionist Organization of America. SPME is an faculty academic community of over 30,000 scholars from around the world addressing issues of anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism on college campuses.