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Kenneth L. Marcus
{Written by Jonathan Marks and originally posted to the Commentary Magazine website}

I don’t always agree with Kenneth L. Marcus, the founder and president of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law. But he is without question the kind of person who might have been nominated in any Republican administration to serve as assistant secretary of education for civil rights. In fact, Marcus served in the same role in the George W. Bush administration on an interim basis. Yet Marcus received not one Democratic vote in the Senate Health, Labor, and Pensions Committee, which just voted 12-11, on party lines, to advance his nomination.

In explaining the controversy over Marcus’s nomination, the New York Times led with an event at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I have written about that event here. The Associated Students of Madison’s Council last year advanced a resolution to aid an anti-Israel divestment effort on the second day of Passover, over the objections of the sole Jewish representative. In the course of the debate over the resolution, the concerns of Jewish students were not only dismissed but also ridiculed.


Marcus’s crime here is that he wrote a letter urging, among other things, that some of the students responsible be disciplined for their behavior. We are supposed to believe, I suppose, that this letter is a sign that Marcus has an authoritarian streak. But in fact, the student judiciary at UW-Madison, not exactly a bastion of the alt-right, determined that, in the case in question, “Jewish students were the subject of discrimination by their elected representatives.” Although no students were disciplined, one representative was ordered to issue an apology while another was urged to apologize and attend a training course on religious tolerance.

In other words, if the New York Times is to be believed, Democrats stood against Marcus because he is not far enough to the left of students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, one of the most left-leaning universities in a universe of left-leaning higher education institutions. He is just too damned hard on anti-Semitism.

To be sure, Marcus has also been criticized for failing to adopt the Obama administration’s deeply controversial positions on how schools should handle sexual assault allegations and for having–as nearly any Republican appointee in any of the past several administrations would have–reservations about affirmative action policies. But, in his capacity as president of the Brandeis Center, Marcus is best known for being a tireless opponent of anti-Semitism. The Brandeis Center has also condemned hatred of and violence against Muslims. The Times acknowledged that, during his stint in the Bush administration, Marcus “reinforced protections for women and Jews as well as Muslims and Sikhs who faced religious discrimination in the wake of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.”

The Democrats knew that they did not have the votes to block Marcus. So their vote was symbolic. But what does it symbolize that a mainstream Republican appointee with an extraordinary record of combating anti-Semitism, and a respectable record of combating other forms of discrimination and hatred, merited not one Democratic vote? The only answer I can think of is this: It is all right to say you are against anti-Semitism, but it is unacceptable to act too vigorously against it. Such action offends those on the left who will tolerate no opposition to their mission to demonize the Jewish state. Democrats, sure of their Jews, seem determined to hold on to those who do Jews harm.

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