Civil-Rights Panel Urges Federal Monitoring of Campus Anti-Semitism

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights voted last week to recommend that Education Department officials protect college students from anti-Semitism by “vigorously enforcing” Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It also called on university leaders to denounce hate speech on their campuses and to ensure that all academic units, including departments of Middle East studies, “respect intellectual diversity.”

Meeting by conference call, the commission approved the recommendations on a 4-to-1 vote. One of the panel’s seven members, Ashley L. Taylor, did not participate in the call; another, Peter N. Kirsanow, left the discussion early.

The vote came nearly five months after representatives of Jewish groups told the panel that anti-Semitism and anti-Israel bias were rampant at colleges across the country, and that such bias should be halted by campus officials or through federal and state intervention (The Chronicle, December 2, 2005).

Although the commission does not have enforcement powers, it can draw attention to rights violations by investigating complaints of discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, age, disability, or national origin, and by submitting reports, findings, and recommendations to the president and to Congress.

The panel’s recommendations were based on its findings, released after the meeting, which included a statement that “anti-Semitic bigotry is no less morally deplorable when camouflaged as anti-Israelism or anti-Zionism.” Many departments of Middle East studies “provide one-sided, highly polemical academic presentations,” the report said, “and some may repress legitimate debate concerning Israel.”

The commission also found that many students do not know what rights they have against anti-Semitic behavior, and it pledged to support a campaign to inform them of those rights.

Questions of Jurisdiction

The panel further urged the Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education to collect and report information on a broader range of anti-Semitic and other hate crimes that occur on campuses. And it recommended that Congress amend Title VI ‹ which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin by any institution that receives federal funds “to make clear that discrimination on the basis of Jewish heritage constitutes prohibited national-origin discrimination.”

That item sparked a heated, hourlong debate among commission members, who disagreed over whether the office could investigate allegations of religious discrimination.

Gerald A. Reynolds, chairman of the commission, argued that it could not. He voted against the recommendations, saying the Office for Civil Rights investigates cases of discrimination based on race or national origin. Since Judaism is a religion, he argued, anti-Semitism does not fall under the office’s jurisdiction. “It’s a rule-of-law question,” he said. “Either we’re going to respect limits placed on federal agencies by Congress, or we won’t.”

But Jennifer C. Braceras, a member of the panel, responded that Judaism is also an ethnicity, and that anti-Semitic conduct does therefore violate the Civil Rights Act. “To me, and I believe to most Jews, ethnicity and religious belief are inseparable in this context,” she told Mr. Reynolds.

“Is that true for the atheist who is Jewish?” he asked. Ms. Braceras said yes.

“These findings and recommendations should not be controversial,” she said a few minutes later. “We should take a firm stand against anti-Semitism on college campuses and inform students of their rights.”
Section: Government & Politics
Volume 52, Issue 32, Page A27