JCPA Pressured To Push Title VI Fight

Group Wants Harder Line on Jewish Students Civil Rights

Harassment?: Some Jewish groups say that anti-Israel protests, such as this mock Israeli checkpoint at the University of California, Berkeley, violate Jewish students’ civil rights.
Courtesy of joel siegal
Harassment?: Some Jewish groups say that anti-Israel protests, such as this mock Israeli checkpoint at the University of California, Berkeley, violate Jewish students’ civil rights.

By Naomi Zeveloff

Published May 03, 2012, issue of May 11, 2012.
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Tuchman said that the JCRC’s position met the ZOA’s standards. “The resolution should praise the new legal policy protecting Jewish students and should be a commitment to enshrining the policy into actual law,” she said. “This is as far as we think a resolution should be necessary.”

The JCPA’s proposal, on the other hand, creates a much tighter standard for the appropriate use of Title VI, saying that it is warranted only when there is a “toxic” environment on campus, featuring “intimidation, violence or threats of violence” that go unanswered by school administrators.

“Lawsuits and threats of legal action,” the JCPA resolution reads, “may be warranted to redress a systematic climate of fear and intimidation which a university administration has failed to address promptly with reasonable corrective measures.”

The JCPA proposal warns against using Title VI to crack down on free speech of pro-Palestinian groups or other activists. The law should not be used to “promote a ‘politically correct’ environment in which legitimate debate about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is squelched and academic freedom is undermined,” the measure notes.

“It could chill free speech on campuses,” explained Gerald Greiman, co-chair of the JCPA’s Task Force on Jewish Security and the Bill of Rights, which co-wrote the resolution. “We think inappropriate use could produce a backlash against the Jewish students.”

The JCPA bullet point on “politically correct” speech seems to have engendered some controversy among JCPA members, with communal leaders from Detroit and a different New Jersey group requesting its removal from the proposal. “Our committee members felt that if we were going to call for the use of Title VI, we should call in a strong, straightforward manner,” said Melanie Gorelick, director of the Community Relations Committee of the United Jewish Communities of MetroWest and Central New Jersey.

Communal leaders from New Haven, Conn. and San Francisco, on the other hand, asked for amendments to the JCPA resolution that would further water it down. They advised Jewish officials to call on Title VI to protect all religious and ethnic groups, not just Jews, and advocate the use of Title VI only as a last resort.

The JCPA resolution and the Northern New Jersey resolution sometimes offered granular differences on their approach to Title VI. For instance, the JCPA urges the communal relations field to distinguish between free speech on the one hand and conduct that is “so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it deprives a student of access to the benefits or opportunities provided by the school”

Meanwhile, the New Jersey JCRC advocates for Jewish community leaders to simply “help campus leaders to understand as well as educate others about the rights and remedies under Title VI.”

Both the JCPA and the JCRC advocate for the new definition of Title VI to be enshrined in federal law. In October 2010, Title VI was redefined to include religious groups on the basis of “shared ethnic characteristics” in a letter from the Department of Education’s assistant secretary of civil rights, Russlynn Ali.

The two resolutions are expected to be voted upon on May 5, along with several other communal resolutions on collective bargaining in the public sector, inequality in education at public schools, gender segregation in Israel and hydraulic fracturing.

At the JCPA plenum, 14 national organizations vote alongside 125 local agencies. The JCPA’s own resolution will be introduced first. The members will then vote on whether to substitute it with the Northern New Jersey JCRC resolution. The New Jersey resolution will succeed if it garners 51% of the vote. If not, the JCPA resolution will move forward, and the JCPA members will then consider the amended language proposed by the other groups.

Contact Naomi Zeveloff at zeveloff@forward.com and on Twitter @NaomiZeveloff


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