(JTA) — The Zionist Organization of America praised the U.S. Department of Education for its efforts to protect Jewish students from anti-Semitic harassment and discrimination.
U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), with Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), introduced legislation last month that would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964, whose Title VI prohibits discrimination based on "race, color, or national origin," to also include religion.
Sherman reported Monday that after speaking with Education Secretary Arne Duncan, he is "more than cautiously optimistic" that the Department of Education will begin enforcing Title VI to protect Jewish students.
In a statement posted on his website, Sherman specifically acknowledged the ZOA’s contribution to this result. The ZOA has led efforts to bring about legislative changes to Title VI, including lobbying members of Congress.
The ZOA filed a Title VI complaint with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights in the fall of 2004 on behalf of Jewish students at the University of California, Irvine. The office dismissed the ZOA complaint, deeming Jews as a religious group and not an ethnic group entitled to be protected under the law. ZOA appeal’s from April 2008 is still pending.
"We are very encouraged to learn that the U.S. Department of Education is progressing toward the critical goal of ensuring that Jewish students have the legal protection they need and deserve," said Morton Klein, the ZOA’s national president, and Susan Tuchman, the director of its Center for Law and Justice, in a statement released Tuesday. "We urge Secretary Duncan to make it crystal clear that the Education Department and its Office for Civil Rights will vigorously enforce Title VI to protect Jewish students facing harassment and discrimination on their campuses, and to publicize that policy once it’s finalized.
"The law itself must clearly obligate colleges and universities to respond when a Jewish student is harassed or discriminated against."