By Cecilie Surasky, @CecilieSurasky on Twitter
A few weeks ago, Brooklyn College stood up against a tsunami of whacked out, only-in-NY extremist-Israel politics and refused to either cancel or sever ties with a planned campus talk on the nonviolent Palestinian-led human rights movement known as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). (Pictured: Jewish Voice for Peace board member Donna Nevel at Brookyln College Students for Justice in Palestine press conference.)
So it was just a matter of time before the pro-occupation crazies came back with something else equally guaranteed to waste valuable public resources and strike fear in the hearts of cash-strapped students.
This time, the notorious CUNY trustee Jeffrey Wiesenfeld of Tony Kushner incident fame, is back leading a call to sue Brooklyn College for aiding and abetting discrimination against Jews— if Brooklyn College doesn’t investigate and “change policies”.
What happened at the talk on BDS?
Turns out that in a room full of students, community-members and teachers; supporters and detractors; Jews, Muslims and Christians and others—4 students, who happen to be Jewish, were asked to leave by school security during the talk by Palestinian human rights leader Omar Barghouti and superstar philosopher Judith Butler (who is also Jewish.)
Weisenfeld and company are claiming these students were removed because they were Jewish, and they have an attorney threatening to sue the school using Title VI, the landmark federal race and ethnicity-based anti-discrimination legislation that was recently revised to allow Jews to sue. (More on that later.)
Brooklyn College’s Students for Justice in Palestine chapter says, reasonably, the students were removed because they were disrupting the event for those around them and did not respond to requests to quiet down. (On any other issue, such removals are standard. In this case, it’s a lawsuit and a press blitz.)
Well, Brooklyn College’s counsel is investigating, as they must with such charges, but here’s the shandah about the whole thing. We know the charge that they were removed because they are Jewish is demonstrably false. In fact it’s ridiculous. Threatening to use Title VI in what is clearly a conflict around differing political views is just one more debasement of the Civil Rights Act, under which title VI is a provision.
As Naomi Zeveloff explained in the Forward article, Coming Up Empty on Title VI:
Historically, Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act was used during the 1960s to desegregate public schools in the South. It prohibits discrimination based on race, color or national origin, but does not include religion as a protected category. But in October 2010, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan issued a letter saying that Title VI would henceforth cover members of religious groups on the basis of shared ethnic characteristics, thus opening the door for Jews to file complaints. Several existing cases involving campus anti-Semitism were grandfathered-in then under the newly-redefined rules.
Title VI discrimination complaints can be filed in federal court as civil cases or, more commonly, with the DOE, where they are subjected to administrative review. But anti-Semitism cases put before a court may face a more uncertain review. Unlike the DOE, the U.S. Supreme Court has not, to date, ruled on whether members of religious groups fall under the law’s purview if they have perceived ethnic characteristics.
Which ever route a complainant chooses, in order to succeed, she must show that the institution in question was remiss in protecting a student from harassment due to her race or ethnicity — not just that an act of harassment occurred. A school found in violation can face a range of measures, including loss of its federal funding.
But here’s the kicker– proponents of Title VI inclusion of Jews as a protected category claim they are concerned about anti-Semitism on campuses—an obviously laudable concern. But the successful campaign to open the door to lawsuits from Jewish students was initiated by the pro-settler extremist group, the Zionist Organization of America (now in disarray and without a 501c3 for failing to file tax returns) and championed by various Israel lobby groups. The goal was to use Title VI as a way to criminalize political speech that is critical of Israel by in essence reclassifying it as hate speech.
That’s why, as Zeveloff reported, out of ten cases alleging anti-Semitism filed thus far under the newly expanded Title VI, not one pertaining to Israel has found success.
Last week, at the press conference that launched this latest wave of idiocy, Weisenfeld brought along neal Neal Sher – former Special war Crimes Prosecutor, US Dept. of Justice who said:
I wish to make clear that the paradigm where some groups were “exempt” from the protections afforded by Title VI of the US Civil Rights Act. These federal statutes afford Jewish students the same protection and rights to a safe and unhindered educational environment as their peers in other ethnic groupings. I am prepared to commence legal proceeding s against the City University of New York if guidelines are not adopted which would prevent the violations we witnessed recently at Brooklyn College of the civil and constitutional rights of Jewish students at a Brooklyn College event sponsored by its Political Science department.
Seriously? The room was full of Jews. 50% of the speakers were Jews.
It’s not enough for professional extremist bullies to try to waste everyone’s time and scare people into submission by fabricating enormous crises out of routine, everyday and sometimes uncomfortable life on campuses.
But just as shocking, they have to cheapen the charges of anti-Semitism so grotesquely, by throwing the label whenever possible and hoping it will stick, that they should be held responsible for desensitizing an entire generation to real anti-Semitism. Next time I try to talk about an encounter with real anti-Semitic attitudes and I am greeted with an eye-roll, I’ll know who is to blame.
Meanwhile, the Jewish Public Affairs Council endorsed Title VI and called on Congress to pass laws to strengthen protections, but to their credit expressed concerns about preserving First Amendment rights and freedom of speech.
But one person who isn’t worried is Ken Marcus, the former federal staffer who helped push through the Title VI change, and then left the government to make a career out of… pushing Title VI:
“It is not just that it is failing. It hasn’t really been tried,” said Ken Marcus, a former staff director at the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. “I would say that the Title VI campaign is barely in its infancy.” Marcus’s new organization, the Louis D. Brandeis Center, focuses on civil rights and Jewish students. The OCR recently tossed Marcus’s complaint at Barnard.
They may have had no success so far, but the Brandeis Center is hiring more attorneys now in preparation for more lawsuits on campuses.