On Thursday, Donald Trump nominated Kenneth Marcus, who has spent years pressuring universities to punish students who advocate for Palestinian rights, to be Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education (DOE). Marcus’ record of attacking students places him squarely in the company of white supremacist, anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian ideologues.
Marcus is the architect of a strategy to abuse civil rights law to suppress campus criticism of Israel. His theory alleges that activism for Palestinian rights creates an antisemitic climate for Jewish students, in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This is a law which the DOE enforces.
Marcus has recently lobbied state and federal lawmakers to require colleges and universities to classify political criticism of Israeli government policies and speech sympathetic to Palestinian rights as inherently antisemitic. No such law has yet been enacted, in part because they would violate the First Amendment.
“If appointed, Marcus will try to do from the inside of the DOE what he has failed to do from the outside: advance Title VI cases that push universities to punish students who exercise their First Amendment right to advocate for justice in Palestine,” said Dima Khalidi, Palestine Legal director. “Marcus has no business enforcing civil rights laws when he has explicitly used such laws to chill the speech activities and violate the civil rights of Arab, Muslim, Jewish, and other students who advocate for Palestinian rights. His appointment will only further the white supremacist and anti-Muslim agenda of the Trump administration.”
Marcus’ record shows his ideological proximity to the Trump administration, and his sole mission of shielding Israel from scrutiny, at the expense of civil and constitutional rights. For example:
Marcus openly boasts about chilling campus speech, despite the fact that his legal strategy to abuse civil rights laws has so far failed.
Marcus promotes legislation that would adopt the discredited "State Department definition of anti-Semitism" which equates criticism of Israel with antisemitism and would censor Palestine advocacy. His efforts have so far failed due to constitutional concerns in the U.S. Congress, South Carolina, Virginia, California and elsewhere.
Marcus promotes Title VI Complaints to the DOE that encourage universities to prohibit and punish advocacy for Palestinian rights. For example, attorneys on the board of Marcus’ Brandeis Center filed a failed complaint against UC Berkeley arguing that mock checkpoints and BDS activism created a hostile environment for Jewish students "reminiscent of Nazi Germany". Similar complaints have repeatedly failed because, according to DOE officials, “robust and discordant expression” is to be expected on college campuses.
Marcus promotes false and racially-charged allegations against students who support justice in Palestine. In spring 2016, the Brandeis Center, under Marcus, called a diverse group of student protesters at UC Irvine an "angry mob", falsely alleged they terrorized Jewish students outside a film screening and demanded harsh punishment. Factual investigators determined Marcus' allegation to be unfounded. In June 2017, Marcus wrote to the Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin, urging the university to take drastic measures against Students for Justice in Palestine and other students of color who had spent a semester organizing for racial and environmental justice.