Commentary Magazine


Anti-Semitism Can Be a Civil Rights Violation After All

In the September 2010 issue of COMMENTARY, Kenneth Marcus documented the rise of anti-Semitic incidents on school campuses and found that the federal government had adopted a hands-off policy:

[I]t has finally become clear that the current policy of the office charged with enforcing civil rights at American universities involves treating anti-Jewish bias as being unworthy of attention—a state of affairs in stark contrast to the agency’s quite justified alacrity in responding to virtually every other possible case of discrimination. While one cannot identify the motive for this astonishing double standard with complete certainty, the justification for it involves an unwillingness to treat Jews as a distinct group beyond considerations of  religious adherence.

That situation, thanks to Ken and other advocates, including the Zionist Organization of America, has now been remedied. In an October 26 letter, Russlynn Ali, assistant secretary for civil rights in the U.S. Department of Education, set forth detailed guidelines on school harassment. In this section, the government reverses itself on its previous indifference to anti-Semitic incidents. Ali provides a hypothetical situation in which  a “junior high school received reports of several incidents of anti-Semitic conduct at the school. Anti-Semitic graffiti, including swastikas, was scrawled on the stalls of the school bathroom.” The conduct included “two ninth-graders trying to force two seventh-graders to give them money. The ninth-graders told the seventh-graders, ‘You Jews have all of the money, give us some.’ … At the same school, a group of eighth-grade students repeatedly called a Jewish student ‘Drew the dirty Jew.’”

The Education Department analyzed the case this way:

The school administrators failed to recognize that anti-Semitic harassment can trigger responsibilities under Title VI. …

Because the school failed to recognize that the incidents created a hostile environment, it addressed each only in isolation, and therefore failed to take prompt and effective steps reasonably calculated to end the harassment and prevent its recurrence. In addition to disciplining the perpetrators, remedial steps could have included counseling the perpetrators about the hurtful effect of their conduct, publicly labeling the incidents as anti-Semitic, reaffirming the school’s policy against discrimination, and publicizing the means by which students may report harassment. …

The problem of anti-Semitism on campuses is growing. Perhaps this development will spur school administrators to re-examine their curious double standard when it comes to anti-Jewish incidents.