Using the Civil Rights Act to Redefine "Anti-Semitism" as Criticism of Israel

By Brownfeld, Allan C. | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, August 2012 | Go to article overview

Using the Civil Rights Act to Redefine "Anti-Semitism" as Criticism of Israel


Brownfeld, Allan C., Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


The Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), the umbrella organization for the organized American Jewish community on domestic issues, has called on Congress to expand the 1964 Civil Rights Act to protect students from discrimination on the basis of religion. On May 6 the JCPA voted to call for Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which bars discrimination in programs receiving federal assistance, to be expanded to include religion. It now bars discrimination only on the basis of race, ethnicity and national origin.

It was the Jewish Community Council (JCC) of Northern New Jersey which submitted the successful proposal. The real goal of this effort, it seems clear, is not to fight anti-Semitism on campus-which seems not to be a problem of any significance (no cases of anti-Semitism were cited)-but to quash criticism of Israel by labeling it as "anti-Semitism."

The JCC resolution was crafted with the input of Susan Tuchman, a member of the board who is also legal director of the far-right Zionist Organization of America (ZOA). The ZOA was instrumental in getting Title VI extended to Jewish students, and has filed Title VI complaints at Rutgers University and the University of California at Irvine. According to the May 11, 2012 issue of the Jewish weekly The Forward, "Like most of the Title VI complaints filed by Jewish students, the ZOA complaints allege that anti-Israel activities turned into anti-Semitic harassment. Others believe that the events, while perhaps distasteful, in no way amount to threats to students' civil rights."

In an October 2011 letter, Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights Russlynn Ali redefined Title VI to include religious groups on the basis of "shared ethnicity characteristics" (Sikhs and Muslims were also included). Now, the JCPA wants to make the change permanent by revising the law.

One advocate of this extension of Title VI is Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, a lecturer at the University of California at Santa Cruz. The examples she provides of the need to "protect" Jewish students from "anti-Semitism" include a conference titled "Alternative Histories Within and Beyond Zionism" which took place at her school. She cites speakers who challenged Israeli policies as "apartheid" and "racism."

"Victimhood supplanted liberalism as the defining ideology of organized American Jewish life."

These various criticisms of Israeli policies, Rossman-Benjamin argued in the Feb. 17, 2012 Forward, "contain language that clearly meets the working definition of anti-Semitism adopted by the U.S. Department of State. As a result of their experience with such university-sponsored anti-Semitic expressions, Jewish students at my university have expressed feeling emotionally and intellectually harassed and intimidated."

Mark Yudof, president of the University of California system (see June/July 2012 Washington Report, p. 48), claims that the federal complaints against the university alleging a hostile environment for Jewish students are without merit. Yudof, who is Jewish, declared: "I think it is about people engaged in abhorrent speech on our campuses. But I am skeptical at the end of the day that with those two instances we will be found to be in violation of Title VI."

The effort to redefine anti-Semitism as criticism of Israel has been going on for nearly four decades. In 1974, Benjamin Epstein, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), co-authored The New Anti-Semitism, a book whose argument was repeated in 1982 by his successor at ADL, Nathan Perlmutter, in a book entitled The Real Anti-Semitism In America. After World War II, Epstein argued, guilt over the Holocaust kept anti-Semitism at bay. But as memories of the Holocaust faded, anti-Semitism had returned-this time in the form of hostility to Israel. The reason: Israel represented Jewish power. "Jews are tolerable, acceptable in their particularity, only as victims," wrote Epstein and his ADL colleague Arnold Forster, "and when their situation changes so that they are either no longer victims, or appear not to be, the non-Jewish world finds this so hard to take that the effort is begun to render them victims anew.

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