Bipartisan Taskforce Raises Campus Anti-Semitism Concerns with New Education Secretary

38% Increase in Anti-Israel Programs & 21% Increase in BDS Movements in ‘14-‘15 Require Attention to Prevent Anti-Semitic Harassment and Intimidation

April 20, 2016

WASHINGTON—Today, members of the House of Representatives Bipartisan Taskforce for Combating Anti-Semitism sounded the alarm about a troubling surge in anti-Semitism on American college campuses. In a letter to the Secretary of Education, the Taskforce asked the Secretary about the Department’s planned response to the issue. Additionally, the co-chairs made the following statement:

“An alarming rise of anti-Israel programs on American college campuses contribute to increasing harassment, intimidation, and discrimination against Jewish students. While we believe that students’ freedoms of speech and assembly should be respected, there are increasing reports that activity advertised as anti-Israel or anti-Zionist is devolving into displays of subtle, but sometimes outright anti-Semitism. Attacks on students because of their actual or perceived religion, ancestry, or ethnicity are unacceptable. We believe strongly that no student should ever face discrimination and that school activities must be structured in a respectful manner to ensure academic integrity and a nondiscriminatory environment throughout the entire campus. For these reasons, we ask the Department of Education to assess its ability to monitor and respond to anti-Semitic incidents and to take additional steps to combat intimidation and harassment against minority students on college campuses.”

In 2004, the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) clarified its interpretation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, including protections for groups of students on the basis of their actual or perceived shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics, regardless of whether they are members of a faith community, as in the case for Jewish, Sikh, and Muslim students. The Department reiterated this policy again in 2010 and 2015.

However, as the number of reported Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement campaigns and other anti-Israel initiatives rise on college campuses, Members of Congress believe the Department must proactively implement its anti-discrimination policy to mitigate anti-Semitism on college campuses.

The Bipartisan Taskforce for Combating Anti-Semitism is co-chaired by U.S. Reps. Nita Lowey (D-NY), Chris Smith (R-NJ), Eliot Engel (D-NY), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Kay Granger (R-TX), Steve Israel (D-NY), Peter Roskam (R-IL), and Ted Deutch (D-FL).

The following organizations expressed their support for the letter: the Anti-Defamation League, Jewish Federation of North America, B’nai Brith International, 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.

Text of the letter can be found here.