Hanna Bogorowski, DCNF
The Trump administration is planning to alter the definition of anti-Semitism on college campuses and change the Department of Education’s policies on investigating attacks or discrimination against Jewish students.
Kenneth Marcus, assistant secretary for civil rights in the Office for Civil Rights, announced the decision in a letter on Aug. 27 in which he also re-opened a case from 2011 brought up by the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) against Rutgers University over alleged discrimination against the university’s Jewish students.
The letter, obtained by Politico, outlines the new “working definition” the department plans to judge claims of discrimination against Jewish students, and it’s one that is “widely used by governmental agencies,” including the Department of State.
The issue that critics, especially those who advocate for Palestinian rights, might find with the new definition is how broad and open it is.
Examples of anti-Semitism the State Department uses in its definition include accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel than to their own nation, making stereotypical allegations against Jewish people, blaming Israel for other inter-religious or political tensions, or even denying the state of Israel its right to exist.
Holding Israel to a double standard that is not held against other nations would also be deemed anti-Semitic.
“This definition accurately addresses how anti-Semitism is expressed today; it recognizes that Jew-hatred can be camouflaged as anti-Israelism or anti-Zionism,” the ZOA said in a press release Sept. 5.
Critics argue using such a broad definition of anti-Semitism has the potential to hinder students’ free speech if even the slightest criticism of Israel is to be labeled as anti-Semitic.
The letter, sent to the ZOA, also said it would re-examine its case against Rutgers University that was dismissed in 2014 by former President Barack Obama.
The department will look at its case not as one of religious freedom but as possible discrimination against Jews as an ethnic group, meaning Judaism would be defined as not only a religion but also as an ethnic origin.
“OCR [Office of Civil Rights] is not only reassessing the evidence already in the record; the agency is also going to determine whether a hostile environment for Jewish students currently exists at Rutgers,” the ZOA said.
The ZOA case, originally claimed in 2011, argues there is a hostile environment toward Jews present on Rutgers’ campus.
It specifically named a pro-Palestine rally that occurred on campus in which Jewish students were allegedly charged $5 to enter while other students attended for free. The event, the organization claims, was advertised as “free and open to the public.”
The Obama administration closed the case in 2014, citing insufficient evidence of discrimination.
The Education Department did not respond to a request for comment.
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