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April 23, 2014 / 23 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘OCR’

UC Jewish Prof: Civil Rights Office Rolling Back Protection for Jews

Thursday, October 31st, 2013

Tammi Rossman-Benjamin lives and teaches in the belly of the beast, and although she is on faculty, her position as lecturer of Hebrew Language at the University of California, Santa Cruz means she has practically no political pull.

But Rossman-Benjamin is not easily deterred.

For years the Jewish instructor has been trying, in her own, respectful, non-confrontational way, to right a serious wrong she sees and hears from students about, on the California campuses: rank anti-Semitism. First she filed a Complaint in 2009, and then, just two weeks ago, filed an Appeal from the Office of Civil Rights refusal to act on her Complaint.

IN 2010, DEPT OF EDUC. EXTENDED CIVIL RIGHTS LAWS TO PROTECT JEWS FROM DISCRIMINATION

And in fact, there was good news on the legal front in the past few years: a much heralded announcement regarding the Civil Rights laws, by which the U.S. Department of Education extended legal protection from discrimination to Jews.

But a decision in August by the Office of Civil Rights to close the file on Rossman-Benjamin’s Complaint, coincidentally on the same day and for the same reasons it rejected two other Complaints filed alleging anti-Jewish discrimination against California colleges, may well mean that the legal protection extended to protect Jews from discrimination in education has been rolled back up.

The Office of Civil Rights has thus once again shut its door to Jews discriminated against – whether through overt action or by the creation of a hostile environment – on U.S. college campuses.

Rossman-Benjamin carefully documents dozens of examples of discriminatory behavior creating a hostile environment for Jewish students qua Jews in the Appeal she filed less than two weeks ago.

But here’s the real issue: Rossman-Benjamin is not focused on the nastiness of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic students, her concern – indeed the sole focus of a complaint she filed with the U.S. Office of Civil Rights – is the official sponsorship of such actions, activities and antagonisms by the universities themselves.

Inexplicably, the OCR chose to ignore the essence of Rossman-Benjamin’s claim. Instead, it pretended that the professor was complaining about student behavior, and then rejected the complaint as unworthy of its review because, according to the OCR, Rossman-Benjamin was complaining about First Amendment protected speech.

The fact that other “First Amendment protected speech” was deemed worthy of review and indeed, nearly immediate corrective action and investigations both by the universities and the OCR, when the speech was directed at groups other than Jews, is very much a significant aspect of Rossman-Benjamin’s appeal.

But first, let’s look at the main focus of Rossman-Benjamin’s complaint, and how the OCR responded.

THE UNDERLYING COMPLAINT, FILED IN 2009

Rossman-Benjamin’s 2009 Complaint charged that professors, academic departments and residential colleges at the California universities were promoting and encouraging anti-Israel, anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish views and behavior, and creating a hostile environment for Jewish students, in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Specific examples of anti-Semitic behavior in the Complaint included:

ZIONISM AS PROMOTING ETHNIC CLEANSING

(1)  The university department-sponsored “A Teach in on Islamophobia: Between the War on Terror and Arab Revolution,” sponsored by the Asian Diasporas Research Clustier of the Institute for Humanities Research and by the UC Center for New Racial Studies, as well as various anti-Israel organizations, such as the Students for Justice in Palestine.

At this teach-in, both panelists blamed Israel and American Zionist organizations and individuals for contributing to Islamophobia to silence all criticism of Israel; one panelist referred to Israel as a “colonial settler state” whose Zionist ideology promotes “ethnic cleansing” and “apartheid,” and said that anyone who “challenged these ‘truths’ is engaging in Islamophobia and racism.”

OFFICIAL PROMOTION OF THE FREEDOM FLOTILLA TO BREAK ISRAEL’S BLOCKADE OF GAZA

Debra Ellis, the university official responsible for coordinating educational events at the California campus at which this event took place, was seated at a table promoting a U.S. boat to Gaza as part of the Freedom Flotilla II.  Ellis handed out copies of a letter she wrote, encouraging students to go to the official U.S. Boat to Gaza website, to endorse the effort to launch a U.S. boat to Gaza, to “write letters to Gaza” that would be transported on the boat, and to write federal, state and city representatives, encouraging them to endorse the campaign.

Protecting Jewish Students From Anti-Semitic Harassment

Wednesday, October 6th, 2010

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires that colleges and universities redress racial and ethnic discrimination or risk losing their federal funding. Thus, if African American or Hispanic students are harassed on campus, they can complain to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), which is mandated to enforce Title VI and ensure that their schools fix the problem.

But Title VI does not clearly protect Jewish students, as we found out after the Zionist Organization of America filed a Title VI complaint with OCR on behalf of Jewish students at the University of California, Irvine (UCI).

To correct this problem, Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA) and Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) have introduced legislation that would require that Jewish students be protected from harassment and intimidation on their campuses. The legislation would add protection from religious discrimination to Title VI, which presently prohibits discrimination based on “race, color, or national origin.”

The Specter-Sherman bill will fill a legal loophole that right now effectively permits colleges and universities to ignore when Jewish students are harassed or discriminated against. Lawmakers should enact this bill quickly, so that Jewish students are assured a campus environment that is safe and conducive to learning, which all students deserve. Advertisement

The need for this amendment is highlighted by many troubling incidents of campus anti-Semitism. For example, at UC Berkeley last March, a Jewish student was holding a sign at a pro-Israel campus rally that read “Israel Wants Peace.” She was rammed from behind with a filled shopping cart. The attack was unprovoked and the victim required medical attention.

At UCI, a Holocaust memorial was destroyed, and swastikas have defaced campus property. Posters have depicted women in traditional Muslim garb saying, “God bless Hitler.” A Jewish student was told to “go back to Russia where you came from.” Jewish students have been threatened and physically assaulted. The campus regularly hosts one- to two-week-long events that demonize Israel and Jews. At the May 2009 event, a speaker compared Jews to Satan. Last May, this speaker referred to Jews as “the new Nazis.”

In October 2004, the ZOA filed a Title VI complaint with OCR on behalf of Jewish students at UCI. The complaint detailed years of increasing anti-Semitic harassment, intimidation and discrimination, and charged that the university had either ignored the problems or made token efforts to address them.

At the time the complaint was filed, OCR had clarified its policy for enforcing Title VI, concluding that the law applied to religious groups that also share ethnic characteristics, such as Jews. Based on this policy clarification, OCR proceeded with the ZOA’s case, rendering it the first case of anti-Semitism that OCR ever agreed to investigate under Title VI.

Soon after the investigation started, the leadership at OCR changed, resulting in a change in the agency’s Title VI policy. OCR reverted back to denying Title VI protection to Jewish students, perceiving Jews simply as a religious group and not also an ethnic group that would be protected from “racial” and “national origin” discrimination under the law.

As a result, even though OCR had overwhelming evidence that Jewish students were facing severe and persistent anti-Semitism at UCI, and that the university hadn’t responded adequately to the problem, OCR dismissed the ZOA’s complaint, concluding that many of the allegations fell outside the agency’s jurisdiction. Our appeal of that decision has been pending since April 2008.

Even now, with new leadership at OCR under President Obama, the policy of denying Jews the same protections as other minority groups has not changed.

The injustice of the UCI decision inspired the ZOA to advocate for a change in the law. We communicated with many members of Congress, educating them about the problems that Jewish students are facing on their campuses and about the law’s failure to afford them the same protections as other ethnic and racial groups. At our annual Advocacy Mission to Washington last April, these problems were a centerpiece of our lobbying efforts with lawmakers.

When Congressman Ron Klein (D-FL), co-chair of the Congressional Taskforce Against Anti-Semitism, convened a briefing last June on campus anti-Semitism and the federal government’s role in redressing it, the ZOA briefed congressional members and their staffs. The briefing led to letters from 38 members of Congress to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, urging the Education Department to enforce Title VI to protect Jewish students.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/protecting-jewish-students-from-anti-semitic-harassment/2010/10/06/

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