With Jewish leaders poised to call for a restrained approach to the use of federal civil rights law for disputes on college campuses, one group is pushing the community to take a more aggressive role toward Jewish student complaints.
The Jewish Community Relations Council of Northern New Jersey has submitted a proposal to the Jewish Council for Public Affairs that urges the community to vigorously support claims of campus anti-Semitism, which have often come up in the context of anti-Israel activities.
The resolution will be voted on at the JCPA’s annual plenum, held in Detroit on May 5-8. It challenges the JCPA’s own policy paper, which emphasizes respect for free speech and urges a careful approach in applying civil rights law to disputes involving Jewish students.
The competing resolutions paint a nuanced picture of the disagreement that has been roiling American Jewish leadership over the past year and a half, since the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights extended Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to effectively include Jewish students.
The dispute pits those who advocate for a vigorous application of civil rights law to quash anti-Semitism against leaders who worry that this approach might backfire against Jewish students if they are seen as silencing free speech on the topic of Israel.
The Northern New Jersey JCRC’s challenge borrows heavily from the JCPA’s document but, notably, leaves out sections that warn against using Title VI to silence free speech.
Instead, the resolution urges the communal relations field to educate Jewish students about their newfound rights under the law.
The JCRC resolution was created with the input of Susan Tuchman, a member of its board who is also the legal director at the Zionist Organization of America. The ZOA was instrumental in getting Title VI extended to Jewish students, and it has filed Title VI complaints at Rutgers University and University of California, Irvine.
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.