NEW YORK (JTA) — The largest umbrella organization of Jewish policy agencies endorsed a statement urging selective use of civil rights legislation to combat anti-Jewish and anti-Israel activity on college campuses.
Monday’s vote by a task force of The Jewish Council for Policy Affairs stopped short of passing the resolution, which calls for balancing vigilance against anti-Semitic and anti-Israel sentiment on college campuses with free speech concerns. Instead, it endorsed the resolution and sent it to be voted on by member agencies, which include the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee and the three major American denominations. The vote will take place at a May plenum in Detroit.
The statement specifically addressed the use of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
In October 2010, following a campaign by Jewish communal organizations, including the JCPA, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights issued a directive to protect students attending publicly funded colleges from harassment “on the basis of actual or perceived shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics.”
Since the directive, the Office for Civil RIghts has opened investigations over harassment of Jewish students at three schools: Columbia University, Rutgers University and the University of California, Santa Cruz. Another case at the University of California, Berkeley, involves Title VI but is being handled in federal court.
The JCPA called for Jewish and pro-Israel students to be educated about using Title VI to remedy “appropriate cases” in which “anti-Semitic or anti-Israel conduct has risen to a level where it deprives a student of access to … opportunities at the school,” or when “the school has accepted, tolerated or failed to correct a hostile environment of which it had notice.” A late addition to the draft statement also urged organizations to consult with campus leaders before taking action.
However, it also warned against relying onTitle VI as a cure-all that could undermine academic freedom and alienate both Jewish and non-Jewish students from the larger Jewish community.
Although sought by Jewish organizations, the use of Title VI has been controversial over fears that it would overly quell reasonable debate about Israeli policy.
In August, the American Jewish Committee walked back from an April joint statement by its director of anti-Semitism, Kenneth Stern, and Cary Nelson, president of the American Association of University Professors, which criticized “Some … as making the situation worse by distorting the provisions of Title VI."
"Opposing anti-Israel events, statements and speakers, they believe the only way to ‘protect’ Jewish students is by imposing censorship,” said the statement.