A group of American Jewish leaders said communal organizations should respect the First Amendment even as they move to protect students from alleged anti-Semitism in the context of the campus Israel debate. The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, made up of Jewish community relations councils from across the country, adopted this resolution Sunday at its annual plenum in Detroit.
The resolution lays to rest an 8-month long debate within the JCPA over the appropriate use of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prevents discrimination on the basis of race, religion, and national origin. But the newly adopted policy is likely to deepen existing divisions between the JCPA and the Zionist Organization of America, which advocates a vigorous use of the law.
In 2010, at the behest of several Jewish organizations, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights extended the definition of Title VI to include religious groups with “shared ethnic characteristics.”
Since then, the Jewish organizational world has been split on the application of Title VI. The ZOA, for instance, has filed complaints at Rutgers University and at the University of California, Irvine, alleging that the schools failed to protect Jewish students from anti-Semitic behavior at anti-Israel events. But the JCPA and some of its member organizations have expressed concerns that excessive use of Title VI could create a backlash against Jewish students who may be seen as quashing free speech on campus.
In addition to the JCPA’s own resolution on Title VI, the plenum heard a counter resolution, sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Northern New Jersey. That proposal hewed closely to the JCPA’s own policy paper, but it was void of language trumpeting free speech. The New Jersey JCRC resolution was written with the input of Susan Tuchman, a board member who also serves as the legal director at the ZOA. The counter-resolution was rejected, JCPA leaders said.
The JCPA’s own resolution was edited at the plenum to remove controversial wording, which stated that the indiscriminate application of the law could “potentially alienate both Jewish and non-Jewish students from the rest of the Jewish community and significantly [harm] the Jewish student community on campus.”
Naomi Zeveloff is the former Middle East correspondent of the Forward, primarily covering Israel and the Palestinian Territories.