By Jennifer Jacobson
April 14, 2006
The Chronicle of Higher Education
Civil-Rights Panel Urges Federal Monitoring of Campus Anti-Semitism
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights voted last week to recommend that
Education Department officials protect college students from anti-Semitism
by "vigorously enforcing" Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It
called on university leaders to denounce hate speech on their campuses and
to ensure that all academic units, including departments of Middle East
studies, "respect intellectual diversity."
Meeting by conference call, the commission approved the recommendations on a
4-to-1 vote. One of the panel's seven members, Ashley L. Taylor, did not
participate in the call; another, Peter N. Kirsanow, left the discussion
The vote came nearly five months after representatives of Jewish groups told
the panel that anti-Semitism and anti-Israel bias were rampant at colleges
across the country, and that such bias should be halted by campus officials
or through federal and state intervention (The Chronicle, December 2, 2005).
Although the commission does not have enforcement powers, it can draw
attention to rights violations by investigating complaints of discrimination
on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, age, disability, or national
origin, and by submitting reports, findings, and recommendations to the
president and to Congress.
The panel's recommendations were based on its findings, released after the
meeting, which included a statement that "anti-Semitic bigotry is no less
morally deplorable when camouflaged as anti-Israelism or anti-Zionism." Many
departments of Middle East studies "provide one-sided, highly polemical
academic presentations," the report said, "and some may repress legitimate
debate concerning Israel."
The commission also found that many students do not know what rights they
have against anti-Semitic behavior, and it pledged to support a campaign to
inform them of those rights.
Questions of Jurisdiction
The panel further urged the Department of Education's Office of
Postsecondary Education to collect and report information on a broader range
of anti-Semitic and other hate crimes that occur on campuses. And it
recommended that Congress amend Title VI ‹ which prohibits discrimination on
the basis of race, color, or national origin by any institution that
receives federal funds "to make clear that discrimination on the basis of
Jewish heritage constitutes prohibited national-origin discrimination."
That item sparked a heated, hourlong debate among commission members, who
disagreed over whether the office could investigate allegations of religious
Gerald A. Reynolds, chairman of the commission, argued that it could not. He
voted against the recommendations, saying the Office for Civil Rights
investigates cases of discrimination based on race or national origin. Since
Judaism is a religion, he argued, anti-Semitism does not fall under the
office's jurisdiction. "It's a rule-of-law question," he said. "Either
going to respect limits placed on federal agencies by Congress, or we
But Jennifer C. Braceras, a member of the panel, responded that Judaism is
also an ethnicity, and that anti-Semitic conduct does therefore violate the
Civil Rights Act. "To me, and I believe to most Jews, ethnicity and
religious belief are inseparable in this context," she told Mr. Reynolds.
"Is that true for the atheist who is Jewish?" he asked. Ms. Braceras said
"These findings and recommendations should not be controversial," she
few minutes later. "We should take a firm stand against anti-Semitism on
college campuses and inform students of their rights."
Section: Government & Politics
Volume 52, Issue 32, Page A27