WASHINGTON (JTA) — The American Jewish Committee said a government decision to classify campus anti-Semitism as prohibited discrimination is being abused by those seeking to silence criticism of Israel.
Kenneth Stern, AJC’s director on anti-Semitism and extremism, joined Cary Nelson, president of the American Association of University Professors, in a statement published last week dealing with the fallout from the Obama administration’s decision last October to apply Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to the protection of Jewish students from anti-Semitism on campuses. Title VI prohibits discrimination based on "race, color or national origin" but does not include religion.
"Some, in reaction to these recent incidents, are making the situation worse by distorting the provisions of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and what has been called the ‘working definition of anti-Semitism,’ " the statement said. "Opposing anti-Israel events, statements, and speakers, they believe the only way to ‘protect’ Jewish students is by imposing censorship."
The statement does not specify incidents, but one reference appears to allude to efforts at Rutgers University to target anti-Jewish bias.
"While some of the recent allegations (such as charging pro-Israel Jewish students admission to a university event while allowing others to attend for free) might well raise a claim under Title VI, many others simply seek to silence anti-Israel discourse and speakers," the statement said. "This approach is not only unwarranted under Title VI, it is dangerous."
Groups, including the Zionist Organization of America, targeted Rutgers for an incident in which Jewish students allegedly were charged admission, but have also said that the alleged anti-Israel bias in some Middle East study courses creates a hostile atmosphere.
The ZOA blasted the AJC for the statement.
"It must surely be demoralizing to those Jewish students who’ve had the courage to come forward and demand a campus environment that’s safe, welcoming and conducive to learning, to learn that an organization like the American Jewish Committee, which is supposed to be standing up for them and against anti-Semitism, is instead minimizing the problems they’re facing and criticizing legitimate efforts to protect and enforce their civil rights," the ZOA said in a letter to Stern and Nelson.
AJC and ZOA were among the Jewish groups that had urged U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan to issue the new Title VI guidelines last year.
The "working statement" referred to in the statement by Nelson and Stern is a European Union standard that allows for criticism of Israel, but defines double standards in Israel criticism and the denial of the right to Jewish self-determination as anti-Semitism. It has been embraced by some U.S. agencies.