Congressional panel queries Education Dept. on campus anti-Semitism


WASHINGTON (JTA) — Citing reports of an increase in anti-Israel activity on college campuses, a bipartisan congressional task force on anti-Semitism asked U.S. Education Secretary John King to outline how his department is tracking anti-Jewish bias.

The letter sent Wednesday to King by 38 members of the U.S. House of Representatives who belong to the Bipartisan Taskforce for Combating Anti-Semitism cites reports of 500 anti-Israel programs on campuses in 2014-2015 and 29 Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaigns sponsored by student groups in the same period, which it said were respectively a 38 percent and 21 percent increase over the previous academic year.

The signatories said in the letter that they “hope you share our view that any campus activity that threatens, harasses, or intimidates Jewish students should not be overlooked simply because it is presented as ‘anti-Israel’ or ‘anti-Zionist.’”

It asks King how many cases of anti-Semitism the department’s Office for Civil Rights is currently investigating; what instructions regional department staffers get to detect anti-Semitic bias, and whether they specifically receive guidance on how to ascertain whether discourse about Israel devolves into “hostile environments;” and whether staffers are told that according to a 2004 Department of Education directive, staffers may regard hostility targeting a faith group as equivalent to hostility targeting an ethnic group.

The task force is chaired by Reps. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y.; Chris Smith R-N.J.; Eliot Engel D-N.Y.; Ileana Ros-Lehtinen R-Fla.; Kay Granger R-Texas; Steve Israel, D-N.Y.; Peter Roskam R-Ill.; and Ted Deutch , D-Fla.

A statement from Deutch’s office said that Jewish groups backing the letter included the Anti-Defamation League, Jewish Federations of North America, B’nai Brith International, the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, the World Jewish Congress, and the Zionist Organization of America.

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