Trump Taps Campus Anti-Semitism Combatant to Head Education Department Civil Rights Office

Kenneth L. Marcus
Louis D. Brandeis Center

President Donald Trump has nominated the founder of a group that defends Jewish students against anti-Semitism to the post of assistant secretary for the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in the U.S. Education Department.

As president and general counsel of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, Kenneth L. Marcus opened investigations under Title VI of the civil rights act concerning harassment of Jewish students on college campuses.

The White House said in its announcement of Marcus’s appointment:

Mr. Marcus is currently President and General Counsel of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law. He previously served as Staff Director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and was delegated the authority of Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights under President George W. Bush. He also previously served as the Lillie and Nathan Ackerman Chair in Equality and Justice in America at the City University of New York’s Baruch College School of Public Affairs. Mr. Marcus is a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley School of Law and Williams College.

The Brandeis Center – which is unaffiliated with Brandeis University in the Boston area – says its mission is “to advance the civil and human rights of the Jewish people and promote justice for all.” In addition, it “conducts research, education, and advocacy to combat the resurgence of anti-Semitism on college and university campuses.”

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) reports Marcus wrote in 2010, “On college campuses — and especially in protests brought by the anti-Israel boycotts, divestment and sanctions movement — it is now widely understood that attacking ‘Jews’ by name is impolitic, but one can smear ‘Zionists’ with impunity.”

JTA also notes the nominee criticized the education department’s OCR for what he believed was a failure to confront “anti-Semitic incidents that masquerade as anti-Israelism.”

In September 2004 – while serving in the George W. Bush administration – Marcus penned a Dear Colleague letter in which he noted the upcoming celebration of Constitution Day is one on which to “address the right of all students, including students of faith, to be free from discrimination in our schools and colleges under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI) and Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 (Title IX).”

Marcus further wrote:

Although OCR’s jurisdiction does not extend to religious discrimination, OCR does aggressively enforce Title VI, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race or national origin, and Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. In OCR’s experience, some cases of religious discrimination may also involve racial, ethnic or sex discrimination.

The nominee noted at the time that, since the September 11 terrorist attacks, OCR had received “complaints of race and national origin harassment commingled with aspects of religious discrimination against Arab Muslim, Sikh, and Jewish students.”

Additionally, he wrote OCR had also dealt with “allegations of racial and sex discrimination commingled with allegations of religious discrimination against Christian students.”

“OCR does not tolerate either of these forms of harassment, which are prohibited by Title VI and Title IX,” Marcus wrote, explaining:

No OCR policy should be construed to permit, much less to require, any form of religious discrimination or any encroachment upon the free exercise of religion. While OCR lacks jurisdiction to prohibit discrimination against students based on religion per se, OCR will aggressively prosecute harassment of religious students who are targeted on the basis of race or gender, as well as racial or gender harassment of students who are targeted on the basis of religion.

Marcus reportedly told Politico in February that anti-Semitism is growing on college campuses.

“We certainly have seen an increase in hate and bias activities since the election,” he said, according to Politico, adding they are found “not just in the alt-right but also on the far left … Not just from Trump supporters but from Trump detractors.”

“When anti-Israel groups are active on college campuses the environment for Jewish students often gets worse,” Marcus reportedly said, pointing to the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement. “If there is a student government resolution to boycott Israel … there’s a much higher likelihood that Jewish students will be called ‘dirty Jew’ or … [other] derogatory terms.”

Politico also notes a New York Times December 2015 letter to the editor written by Marcus that addressed a Times front page article reporting Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) as having a “disposition” that “has rarely been described warmly.”

“That was never my experience of Ted Cruz,” Marcus wrote, and continued:

We worked together as law firm associates during the 1990s, and I relished Ted’s company, as did our mutual colleagues. Your reporter might have been too quick to accept Ted’s self-deprecating remark that “if you want someone to grab a beer with, I may not be that guy.”

Back in the day, I had a few drinks with the man who is now the junior senator from Texas, and I highly recommend it. Just make sure you brush up on your constitutional law first. The conversation will be fascinating, but it will not be light.

Marcus is the author of Jewish Identity, Civil Rights in America, and The Definition of Anti-Semitism.

If confirmed by the Senate, Marcus will serve under federal education secretary Betsy DeVos. Currently, Candice Jackson serves as the acting OCR chief.



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