Daily Israel Report

Conditional Civil Rights for Jewish Students on Campus?

Title VI of federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 sparks debate in Jewish community; Will Jewish rights on campus be safeguarded or undermined?
By Rachel Hirshfeld
First Publish: 5/6/2012, 10:53 AM

University Students
University Students
Israel news photo: Flash 90

In October 2010, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights broadened its interpretation of Title VI of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964. In addition to prohibiting discrimination based on race, national origin or color in federally funded programs, the provision added protection against “harassment of members of religious groups based on shared ethnic characteristics,” which in practical terms includes Jews.

However, this expansion has led to a heated debate within the Jewish community, which will be further discussed at the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) summit in Detroit, regarding whether Jews should use this right to initiate federal suits against anti-Semitic and anti-Israel activity on campus or whether they should have to meet higher standards than other groups when issuing a claim.

The Zionist Organization of American, which spearheaded efforts to broaden the definitions of Title VI, asserts that anti-Israel activities on campus quickly become incidents of anti-Semitic harassment. Other groups, however, claims that events, while perharps distatful, in no way amount to a breach of the civil rights of Jewish students on campus.

“We believe it is the spines of those who claim to represent American Jews that must be stiffened, and not the pre-requisite standards allowing Jews use of Title VI,” said Lori Lowenthal Marcus, executive committee chair of the National Conference on Jewish Affairs (NCJA).

“To suggest, as the JCPA has done, that Jews are more likely than other groups to assert frivolous Title VI claims, or that the aura of First Amendment or academic freedom impedes Jews, and only Jews, from seeking redress, is a double-standard which can only harm Jewish students,” said Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, who chairs the NCJA Task Force on Academia and Campus Life, and who co-authored NCJA’s Statement on Campus Anti-Semitism and Title VI.  

In June 2009 Rossman-Benjamin, a lecturer at University of California Santa Cruz, filed a Title VI complaint against her university, claiming that some faculty and administrators had abused their positions and university resources in order to promote hatred of the Jewish state and its supporters, which in turn had created an intellectually and emotionally hostile environment for Jewish students. According to Rossman-Benjamin, “it is irresponsible for the leaders of major Jewish organizations to promote a stricter standard for Jews to meet than for non-Jews in order to seek redress under Title VI.”