US Commission on Civil Rights: anti-Semitism on campuses now top priority

The US Commission on Civil Rights has launched a campaign against anti-Semitism on campuses that appears to dwarf in importance its other traditional activities like reporting on housing and voter discrimination.

According to Commission head Kenneth Marcus, “Usually, we’ll write a report, but in this case, we needed to get the word out,” because students aren’t sufficiently aware of their rights.

The result? An unprecedented campaign developed and or implemented with partners including the American Jewish Congress, the Zionist Organization of America, campus Hillels, the Anti-Defamation League, Israel on Campus Coalition, and others, involving the internet, print posters and postcards sent to college campuses across the country.

The front banner of the Commission’s website now features 7 major links. All are to administrative functions like “Filing a Complaint” or “Regional Offices.” Only one link is content related, “Ending Campus Anti-Semitism.” This link leads to a website created specifically to educate about campus anti-Semitism and to encourage reporting of incidents.

Back in April, 2006, Ron Kampeas of the JTA wrote:

The effort by an alliance of Jewish groups to hold government-funded Middle East studies departments accountable took two strides forward in recent weeks: one legislative and one moral.

Congress came a step closer to a mechanism that would monitor how Middle East Studies departments spend federal money, and the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, an advisory body, found that anti-Israeli activism could engender a hostile atmosphere for Jews on campus.

A number of right-wing Israel advocacy groups have long targeted federal funding for Middle East Studies, charging that federal funds are being used to support what they call anti-American and anti-Israeli professors. Some of the more well-known groups are Daniel Pipes’ Campus Watch, which encourages students to submit reports about teachers, and Boston-based The David Project.

The David Project is best known for its documentary, “Columbia Unbecoming”, a film that painted Columbia University as a center of anti-Israeli scholarship and student intimidation, but which was debunked by Liev Leibovitz a writer for New York Jewish Week, the largest Jewish newspaper in America. Among other things, Leibovitz uncovered the fact that a number of students featured in the film “had not even studied under the professors who were being accused.”

JTA’s Ron Kampeas wrote:

“Another battlefront for Jewish groups seeking reforms on campus has been the Civil Rights Commission.”

The commission is stacked with members sympathetic to the views of the administration in power. It has no enforcement power, but its recommendations are taken seriously by the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights.”

The Commission convened a special panel on anti-Semitism on campus that, according to the Forward, found that “anti-Zionism on college campuses is tantamount to antisemitism.” (The report can be downloaded here.)

The expert 3-person panel that advised the Commission included: Gary Tobin of the Institute for Jewish and Community Research; Sarah Stern of the American Jewish Congress and Susan Tuchman of the Zionist Organization of America, which, according to The Forward, is “the most visible right-wing Jewish group in America,” and a group with a major credibility problem.The panel determined that:

•Anti-Semitic bigotry is no less morally deplorable when camouflaged as anti-Israelism or anti-Zionism

Of course, this leaves quite a bit up to interpretation, Marcus acknowledged.

Since the campaign was unveiled in April, there has been no uptick in reports from campuses. But the Commission hopes it will give students the “leverage” they need. Any leverage to stop anti-Semitism, wherever it occurs, is a good thing. But one hopes that the issue of anti-Semitism on campuses is not being artificially elevated to a “code red” merely as a way to give right wing Israel advocacy groups leverage they need to put an end to criticism of US or Israeli policy on campus, or open debate in the classroooms. That would be terribly cynical.

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