NEW YORK (JTA) — The American Jewish Committee disavowed a statement from a staffer who criticized efforts to use federal civil rights law to respond to anti-Israel activism on campus.
In an e-mail, the AJC’s executive director, David Harris, called the April statement by Kenneth Stern, the group’s director on anti-Semitism and extremism, "ill advised" and expressed regret over its release.
"Unfortunately, AJC’s internal system of checks and balances did not function well in this case," Harris said in his Aug. 9 e-mail, as reported by the Forward.
Stern’s statement, which was co-signed by Cary Nelson, president of the American Association of University Professors, suggested that some supporters of Israel are distorting the provisions of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits federally funded institutions or programs from discriminating on the basis of race and national origin.
Some in the Jewish community have accused colleges of discriminating against Jewish students by allowing anti-Israel professors and activists to foster a hostile and anti-Semitic atmosphere on their campuses. Last year, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights clarified that anti-Semitic harassment of Jews based on shared ancestry or ethnicity was covered under Title VI.
In their statement, Stern and Nelson criticized the manner in which some have responded to allegations of campus anti-Semitism.
"Opposing anti-Israel events, statements, and speakers, they believe the only way to ‘protect’ Jewish students is by imposing censorship," Stern and Nelson wrote.
The Harris e-mail was sent to Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, a lecturer in Hebrew at the University of California, Santa Cruz, in response to a letter she had written to Stern criticizing his statement. She had previously filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education accusing her university’s administrators and faculty of fostering a hostile atmosphere toward Jewish students in violation of Title VI.
The Zionist Organization of America also had criticized Stern’s statement. The ZOA has accused universities such as Rutgers and the University of California, Irvine of violating Title VI.