The Education Department’s new head of civil rights has reopened a seven-year-old case brought by a Zionist group against Rutgers University, saying the Obama administration ignored evidence suggesting the school allowed a hostile environment for Jewish students, the New York Times reported Monday.
According to the Times, the move by Kenneth Marcus, the assistant secretary of education for civil rights and an opponent of Palestinian rights causes, puts the weight of the federal government behind a definition of anti-Semitism that targets opponents of Zionism — and defines Judaism as not only a religion but as an ethnic origin.
The Times reported it obtained an Aug. 27 letter from Marcus to the conservative Zionist Organization of America saying he’d vacate a 2014 decision by the Obama administration — and re-examine ZOA’s complaint as possible discrimination against an ethnic group.
A spokeswoman for Rutgers said the university had not received official notification from the Education Department yet, but “as always, we would certainly cooperate with the Department of Education should they decide to review the decision.”
The initial complaint by ZOA was filed in April 2011, when Rutgers was trying to address brewing tensions over the B.D.S. movement, which advocates boycotting, divesting from and sanctioning Israel.
That month, the school hosted Omar Barghouti, a founding member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, and after his speech, he called for the university to distance itself from Israel, the Times reported. Rutgers issued a statement assuring the college’s Hillel group it wouldn’t do that, the newspaper reported.
“An individual’s pro-Israel viewpoint itself — or, for that matter, any viewpoint on the policies of the State of Israel, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or related issues — is not protected by” federal civil rights law, Marcus wrote, the Times reported.
However, he added, “discrimination on the basis of actual or perceived shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics — which may include discrimination against Jewish or Muslim students — is.”
Marcus informed ZOA he’d specifically review one of the three allegations made in its 2011 complaint, which said a liberal, pro-Palestinian group, Belief Awareness Knowledge and Action, imposed an admissions fee on Jewish and pro-Israeli students who attended an event called “Never Again for Anyone,” the Times reported.
The Zionist group said an email proved that an organizer wrote the group began charging only after it observed “150 Zionists” who “just showed up.”
In dismissing the case in 2014, the Education Department determined that the host of the event advertised a $5 to $20 donation, and began charging last-minute fees because the event drew more attendees than anticipated, including nonstudents, the Times reported.
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