Feds reopen probe of alleged anti-Semitic incident at Rutgers
By Nick Anderson
September 12, 2018
The Trump administration is reviving an investigation into allegations of anti-Semitism at Rutgers University, where Jewish students said they were charged a discriminatory fee in 2011 to attend a campus event critical of Israel’s policy toward Palestinians.
With its action, the Education Department cited a definition of anti-Semitism that encompasses certain expressions of anti-Israel sentiment. Observers said it appeared to mark a shift in civil rights enforcement on matters related to the Middle East conflict that often prove controversial on college campuses.
The Obama administration closed the Rutgers case in 2014 without finding wrongdoing by the university.
But Kenneth L. Marcus, assistant education secretary for civil rights under President Trump, said in a recent letter that the 2011 incident at the public university in New Jersey merited further scrutiny in response to an appeal from the Zionist Organization of America.
The Zionist group alleged that the fee was selectively applied to block Jewish and pro-Israel students from the event. Federal investigators who interviewed witnesses found no evidence, according to the 2014 federal summary, that Jewish people who paid the fee were denied entry or that non-Jewish people who refused to pay the fee were let in. The investigators concluded there was insufficient evidence to substantiate that imposing the admission fee was discriminatory. They also found insufficient evidence to determine that the university mishandled the matter during or after the event.
“Marcus is sending a clear signal that attacking free speech for Palestinian rights is at the top of his agenda,” Dima Khalidi, director of Palestine Legal, a group that defends activists, said in a statement. “This is a perverse use of government resources."
Trump administration adopts new definition of anti-Semitism in schools
September 12, 2018
By Michael Stratford
The Trump administration is changing how the Education Department investigates allegations of discrimination against Jewish students, backing an approach that is favored by pro-Israel groups but that critics worry will stifle free speech on campus.
The policy change was outlined in a letter last month by Kenneth Marcus, who leads the department’s Office for Civil Rights, in which he re-opened a 2011 investigation into Rutgers University in connection with alleged discrimination against Jewish students. The letter was obtained by POLITICO.
Marcus wrote in the letter that the Education Department, in its investigations into discrimination, would adopt the “working definition” of anti-Semitism that is “widely used by governmental agencies” including the State Department.
That definition includes examples in which demonizing or delegitimizing Israel, or holding it to a double standard not expected of other democratic nations, are deemed anti-Semitic.
“It’s certainly something that we feared would happen,” said Dima Khalidi, director of Palestine Legal, adding that the new definition “opens the door to equate any criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism.”
Khalidi also criticized the Education Department for adopting the definition “without any process or public input.”
Limiting the Debate
September 13, 2018
By Andrew Kreighbaum
The Trump administration has made free speech on college campuses a signature issue. Attorney General Jeff Sessions warned last year that college campuses were becoming echo chambers "of political correctness and homogenous thought."
But civil liberties groups have long warned that a new definition of anti-Semitism quietly adopted by the Education Department would stifle speech on campuses.
But Dima Khalidi, the founder and director of Palestine Legal, said OCR has previously understood the distinction between First Amendment-protected speech and discrimination on college campuses. She said Marcus is destroying that distinction in favor of a pro-Israel agenda.
"This is where these debates are supposed to happen. This is where these conversations are supposed to happen. To have the government intervene or declare a whole range of political speech out of bounds is exactly what the First Amendment is designed to prevent," she said.