WASHINGTON (JTA) — U.S. Congress members of Congress signed a letter expressing concern about how the federal Department of Education is responding to anti-Semitism on college campuses.
The Zionist Organization of America lobbied for the letter, which was signed by 36 lawmakers and sent last week to Department of Education secretary Arne Duncan. The letter raised questions about the department’s Office for Civil Rights’ enforcement of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
In 2004 ZOA requested that the civil rights’ office investigate anti-Semitic incidents at the University of California, Irvine. In 2007, after looking into the allegations, the office concluded that it could not take action because the incidents were not based on students’ national origins.
The lawmakers’ letter denounced this decision, saying that the Office for Civil Rights was not abiding by its own policy statement.
The office’s policy statement says that it will enforce Title VI for groups that exhibit both racial and ethnic characteristics, such as Jews. Title VI ensures that recipients of federal funding, including public and most private universities, keep their programming free from racial and ethnic discrimination.
University of California President Mark Yudof said the ZOA’s claims were exaggerated.
"[I will] do everything in my power to protect Jewish and all other students from threats or actions of intolerance," he said in a July 6 statement.
The letter was written following a briefing for congressional staff about anti-Semitism on college campuses organized by Rep. Ron Klein (D-Fla.), co-chairman of the Congressional Task Force on Anti-Semitism.
Speakers at the briefing included representatives from ZOA, The American Jewish Committee and Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life.