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Hold BDS accountable for anti-Semitism on campus

As published in the Washington Examiner

Anti-Semitism is rapidly becoming the norm on college campuses. “Apartheid" walls and swastika graffiti disparaging Israel are commonplace. Palestinian flags depict Israel as part of an imaginary state of Palestine. Resolutions to boycott the only Jewish state are frequently debated and passed by student and faculty bodies. Professors refuse to recommend qualified students for study in Israel. Slogans at a recent UCLA conference advocated the destruction of Zionism.

Anti-Semitism became cool on campus in 2018. According to the campus anti-Semitism watchdog group AMCHA Initiative, there were 578 anti-Semitic incidents on more than 142 U.S. campuses in the year just ended. Jewish students are being targeted, harassed, and physically threatened in blatantly discriminatory ways. It’s time for them to exercise their Title VI rights.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act prohibits racial and ethnic discrimination at colleges and universities receiving federal funds. In 2004, the Office of Civil Rights added Jews as a Title VI-protected ethnic group, but refused to support complaints of discrimination in cases of anti-Israel or anti-Zionist incidents. OCR failed to recognize that there are indeed cases where criticism of Israel and its supporters crosses the line into anti-Semitism.

The new head of OCR, Kenneth Marcus, recently reopened a seven-year-old complaint that Rutgers University violated Title VI by discriminating against Jewish students. He indicated he will now use the State Department definition of anti-Semitism to assess whether behavior is motivated by anti-Semitic bias and whether there exists a “ hostile environment on the basis of national origin or race … for students of actual or perceived Jewish ancestry or ethnic characteristics.” This is an important development in the fight against campus anti-Semitism.

Claims by Jewish students against their institution must still meet the legal burden required of all groups protected under Title VI, proving they are subjected to harassment, intimidation, or discrimination sufficiently severe or pervasive to interfere with or limit their ability to participate in or benefit from services, activities, or opportunities offered by their school. If OCR determines that a school administration has encouraged, tolerated, inadequately addressed, or ignored the discrimination and does not act to redress the situation, the federal government can withdraw funding.

The State Department definition of modern-day anti-Semitism identifies expressions of Jew-hatred, including when disguised as Israel-bashing and anti-Zionism. It differentiates between legitimate criticism of Israel, which is not anti-Semitic, and criticism that crosses the line into anti-Semitism by delegitimizing and demonizing Israel and holding Israel to a double standard.

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement crosses that line. It libels, demonizes, and viciously attacks the Jewish state and its supporters, equating Israel with Nazi Germany and labeling it a genocidal evil-doer. BDS assails the Jewish people’s right to its own state. Its end goal is the elimination of Israel. In the words of BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti, “We oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine. ... Ending the occupation doesn’t mean anything if it doesn’t mean upending the Jewish state itself.”

This unprecedented campaign to rid the world of the nation-state of Israel, driving Jews from their ancestral and legitimate home, is pure anti-Semitism in light of the State Department definition as well as the virtually identical International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition signed by 31 countries.

Susan Tuchman of the Zionist Organization of America, the organization that brought the Rutgers complaint, told me in a recent conversation that the State Department’s definition is “a guide that the government lacked in the past,” adding that “OCR hadn’t [previously] fully appreciated that anti-Semitism can be expressed as anti-Israelism and anti-Zionism.”

The ACLU claims that this definition will stifle free speech and make all criticism of Israel illegal — an unreasonable position taken by an organization with a specific agenda. The ACLU vigorously supports the right to boycott when it’s Israel being blacklisted, but it opposes the right of private citizens to refuse to cater gay weddings.

Tuchman stressed that OCR’s “obligation to enforce Title VI consistent with the First Amendment right to freedom of speech” remains in full force and effect.

Using the State Department definition will prevent college administrators from targeting only those forms of anti-Semitism they consider repugnant and intolerable while ignoring those camouflaged as criticism of Zionism or Israel. As Tuchman observed, “Anti-Semitism where it involves Israel can be just as hurtful and harmful to Jewish students as traditional anti-Semitism.”

It’s time for college administrators to confront their hypocrisy, stop protecting hate speech and bigoted behavior directed against Jewish students, and take it as seriously as they do bias against African-Americans, women, and the LGBTQ community.

Jewish students must insist on a safe and welcoming learning environment, just as other minorities do. Given the burgeoning anti-Semitism on campus, Jews need to invoke their right to Title VI enforcement, now more than ever.

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