The Trump administration has reopened a case against Rutgers University that was quashed by the Obama administration, which prompted critics to accuse the former US president of ignoring evidence that the New Jersey college campus allowed for hostility toward Jewish students, according to a report in the New York Times (NYT) published on Wednesday.
The initiative to revisit the case was spearheaded by Kenneth L. Marcus, the assistant secretary of education for civil rights, and will potentially allow for federal involvement in the definition of anti-Semitism.
The move also defines Judaism as an ethnic origin, in addition to a religion, which will essentially broaden the meaning of what constitutes anti-Semitism and could include specific types of protests held on college campuses
The NYT claimed to have obtained a letter written to the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) by Mr. Marcus in which he said he would overturn a 2014 decision by the Obama administration and re-examine the group’s cause as possible discrimination against an ethnic group rather than a cause of religious freedom.
The original complaint was filed in April 2011 by the ZOA when Rutgers had been trying to address growing unease among Jewish students caused by the rise of activities launched by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) movement.
By doing so, the Education Department has adopted the definition of anti-Semitism as defined by the International Organization for Holocaust Remembrance (IHRA).
Points in the definition include the prohibition of “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour."
The definition also includes a clause defining as anti-Semitism “Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.”
Palestinian rights activists argue that the move is calculated to equate advocating the Palestinian cause with anti-Semitism.
With BDS activity rife on college campuses, and anti-Israel protesters accusing Israel of being an apartheid state—an inherent accusation of racism—Palestinian activists believe that holding exhibitions and waving placards during anti-Israel events such as “Israel Apartheid Week” could be prevented on grounds of anti-Semitism.
“This is exactly what we feared would happen—he (Marcus) has a long track record of pressuring universities and government bodies to trample on free speech,” Rahul Saksena, senior staff attorney at Palestine Legal is quoted as saying.
A spokeswoman for the Education Department, Liz Hill, is also quoted in the NYT as saying that the Office for Civil Rights “aggressively enforces” civil rights law, “which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity or national origin.”