NEW YORK, May 9, 2012 -- The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) criticized the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) today for adopting a resolution at its annual plenum on Sunday, which addresses anti-Jewish and anti-Israel activity on college campuses. Rather than fully embracing the October 2010 policy of the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, which now protects Jewish students from anti-Semitic harassment and intimidation under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the JCPA resolution is critical of the policy, sending the wrong message to Jewish students, to the federal government, and to the perpetrators of anti-Semitic bigotry.
- The JCPA resolution tells Jewish students that, unlike other victims of harassment and intimidation, they should think twice before seeking a legal solution to a hostile campus environment, or else risk a lack of support and even criticism from Jewish communal leaders. African American and Hispanic students, for example, have been protected under Title VI for close to 50 years, since the law's enactment in 1964. They have unfettered access to the legal remedies under Title VI and the JCPA has never cautioned or criticized African American or Hispanic students about when they should exercise their civil rights. Jewish students should have the same access, unrestricted by any conditions or limitations that the JCPA tries to impose on them.
- The JCPA resolution raises concerns about freedom of speech under the First Amendment that are completely unwarranted. Long before the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued its new policy protecting Jewish students under Title VI, OCR made it clear that all of the anti-discrimination laws it enforces are intended to protect students from discrimination, not to regulate the content of speech.
- It is most ironic that the JCPA, which says in its resolution that the JCPA is committed to "fostering support for Israel and promoting Jewish security," is expressing concern that the new Title VI policy could be used to squelch speech that, in fact, promotes hatred and violence against Jews and Israel - that it could intimidate haters of Jews and Israel from calling Israel a Nazi or apartheid state and calling Israelis baby killers. Although a Title VI action could not be used to achieve such a result, if such a result did occur, we would applaud it. And the JCPA should, too. If Title VI actions put a stop to hate speech against African Americans and Hispanics on campus, we would applaud that as well, and surely the JCPA would join us.
- It is crucial to note that Title VI complaints have never raised concerns about campus programs promoting legitimate political discourse or disagreements regarding Israel and the Middle East conflict, such as whether there should be a Palestinian Arab state, or whether Jerusalem should be divided, or whether Israel should make even more concessions to the Arabs. The whole reason that the ZOA launched a campaign to ensure that Jewish students would be protected under Title VI was to address the vicious anti-Semitic and anti-Israel sentiment that promotes hatred and prejudice against Jews and Israel, creating a hostile campus environment for Jewish students, to the point that some students have even feared for their physical safety.
- There is no evidence that Title VI has been or will be used to suppress free speech. Whenever the ZOA invoked Title VI on behalf of Jewish students, the ZOA never called for suppressing speech that is anti-Semitic and/or anti-Israel. Rather, the ZOA urged university leaders to exercise their own free speech rights and publicly condemn speeches and programs that cross the line into anti-Semitism based on U.S. government standards.
- The JCPA resolution acknowledges that Jewish students are facing serious problems: It notes "a disturbing anti-Israel climate on some college campuses," and that students and faculty "have been intimidated, harassed, and even threatened with physical violence because of their Jewish identity or their support for the Jewish state." The JCPA thus appreciates that the demonization of Jews and Israel on campus, and the delegitimization of the Jewish State, can create a campus environment that is hostile to Jews. Yet absurdly, the JCPA is worried that invoking Title VI could put a stop to the anti-Semitic bigotry. The resolution is sending the wrong message to the perpetrators of the bigotry - that they may continue doing what they are doing because even the JCPA is not fully committed to putting a stop to their hateful conduct.
- The JCPA resolution suggests, without any evidence, that there are some in the Jewish community who are using Title VI "aggressively" or indiscriminately. Such claims are not only false; they are also divisive. The JCPA is sending the message to OCR that perhaps it made a mistake in clarifying that Jewish students would now be protected under Title VI, because even the Jewish community is not united behind this new legal protection.
When the JCPA initially proposed a resolution critical of the new Title VI policy protecting Jewish students, the ZOA opposed it, detailing its reasons in an October 2011 letter to the JCPA board of directors. The ZOA stated that any resolution on the Title VI issue should simply (1) express deep concern about the anti-Semitism and vicious anti-Israel sentiment that is creating a hostile environment for Jewish students; (2) praise OCR's new Title VI policy that affords Jewish students the same legal protections as other ethnic and racial groups; (3) support a nationwide campaign to educate Jewish students about how to respond to anti-Semitic harassment and intimidation on their campuses, which should include apprising them of their legal rights under Title VI; and (4) urge Congress to enact legislation that enshrines in the law that federally funded schools must protect students from religious harassment and intimidation - in the same way they are already obligated to protect against discrimination based on "race, color, or national origin" under Title VI - so that Jewish students' legal rights are firmly in place and not subject to agency interpretation.
The ZOA is pleased to see that the JCPA incorporated into its resolution the ZOA's proposal that legislation should be enacted to enshrine in the law that schools must protect students against religious harassment and intimidation.
Morton A. Klein, ZOA's National President, and Susan B. Tuchman, Esq., Director of the ZOA's Center for Law and Justice, criticized the JCPA resolution for wrongly diminishing a critical new legal protection for Jewish students: "After the ZOA fought a successful six-year battle to ensure that Jewish students have the same legal protection from harassment and discrimination under Title VI that other minority groups have had since 1964, the ZOA is shocked that the JCPA would undermine what we and others have worked so hard to achieve. We are shocked at the JCPA's efforts to arbitrarily limit Jewish high school and college students utilizing Title VI. We are shocked that the JCPA is worrying about Title VI quashing hateful speech against Jews and Israel. Regardless, the ZOA will continue to strongly advocate for Jewish students, and to make sure that they have the kind of educational environment that every student deserves - one that is physically and emotionally safe and conducive to learning."
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