A Blind Eye to Campus Anti-Semitism?
During the first years of the 21st century, the virus of anti-Semitism was unleashed with a vengeance in Irvine, California. There, on the campus of the University of California at Irvine, Jewish students were physically and verbally harassed, threatened, shoved, stalked, and targeted by rock-throwing groups and individuals. Jewish property was defaced with swastikas, and a Holocaust memorial was vandalized. Signs were posted on campus showing a Star of David dripping with blood. Jews were chastised for arrogance by public speakers whose appearance at the institution was subsidized by the university. They were called “dirty Jew” and “fucking Jew,” told to “go back to Russia” and “burn in hell,” and heard other students and visitors to the campus urge one another to “slaughter the Jews.” One Jewish student who wore a pin bearing the flags of the United States and Israel was told to “take off that pin or we’ll beat your ass.” Another was told, “Jewish students are the plague of mankind” and “Jews should be finished off in the ovens.”
When complaints were lodged over these incidents, which took place in 2003 and 2004, the university responded either with relative indifference or with little urgency. But when the federal government was asked in 2004 to intervene to deal with incidents that its own investigators had determined to be clear-cut violations of the civil rights of Irvine’s Jewish students, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights failed to prosecute a single case. Indeed, it 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.
About the Author
Kenneth L. Marcus is the former head of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. This essay is adapted from Jewish Identity and Civil Rights in America, published by Cambridge University Press.