Trump Administration Acts to Protect Jews at UCLA Using Title VI
U.S. Department of Education is clearly using Title VI to fight anti-Semitism on college campuses, starting with UCLA
January 12, 2020
The Trump administration made it clear this week how they were going to act on the president's executive order that included Jews as a protected group under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. The U.S. Department of Education opened an investigation into UCLA for two separate complaints regarding anti-Semitism.
When President Trump initially signed the executive order, there was outcry from some who deliberately misunderstood the president's updated interpretation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Title VI prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance (like UCLA). Trump's executive order made clear that anti-Semitism would be considered discrimination. This is a distinction that the law was unable to make clear on its own since Jews are neither a race, a religion, nor from a particular country. Trump's executive order says that those enforcing Title VI should "consider" the definition of anti-Semitism drafted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, which includes "denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of the State of Israel is a racist endeavor."
The outraged fear-mongers charged that by signing the executive order Trump was characterizing Jews as a race, a "centuries-old anti-Semitic trope," according to them.
In fact, the opposite was true. Trump was avoiding characterizing Jews as anything but "a group of people that Congress intended to protect." In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court used these words in a 1982 ruling, agreeing that Jews deserved this classification. That case involved a synagogue in Maryland, Shaare Tefila, who was suing the vandals who'd spray-painted their building with swastikas. The synagogue had cited the Civil Rights Act of 1866 which applied to racial discrimination.
Now, belying the fears of the executive order's critics, the U.S. Department of Education is clearly using the clarification of Title VI to fight anti-Semitism on college campuses, starting with UCLA.
The two complaints the DOE will investigate regard the public university hosting a national conference of the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and a student who says she was harassed by a visiting professor and her own professor after standing up for Israel in class.
SJP National Conference in November, 2018
The SJP national conference held at UCLA in November of 2018 attracted immense controversy. While only 500 SJP members attended the event, 35,000 signatures were collected opposing it.
SJP is a national pro-Palestinian organization that promotes a highly victimized and one-sided view of the Palestinian situation in Israel. They are virulently anti-Israel, noisily and at times violently disrupting student-run pro-Israel events. They oppose "normalization" of any pro-Israel groups and try to block any peaceful dialogue between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian advocates.
Explicitly anti-Semitic statements have been made by members of the group and the website for the conference itself stated, "We know that Zionism is ethnic cleansing, destruction, mass expulsion, apartheid, and death...Zionism is a human ideology and a set of laws that have been challenged and can be destroyed."
Opposition to UCLA allowing SJP to host a national conference at the public university picked up steam after the deadly shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, mere weeks prior. Eleven people were murdered during Sabbath services by an avowed anti-Semite.
Even so, UCLA stood by its decision to allow SJP to host the conference, which was to be closed to all but carefully vetted attendees.
(SJP earned the right to exclude certain students and community members by foregoing funding from UCLA student fees. They had learned from a previous conference that surreptitious videos of their breakout sessions could be embarrassing, to say the least. Leaks revealed sessions that discouraged members from engaging in Jewish-Muslim interfaith dialogues. Another leaked audio revealed a speaker espousing violence over peaceful advocacy. "No one is saying that we can't use non-violent strategies as forms of resistance, but to make it this totalizing discourse that [a previous speaker] described deprives us of a lot of possibilities." )
In an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times, UCLA Chancellor Gene Block defended the university's decision to allow the conference. "It remains an awkward reality that our constitutional system, and democracy's commitment to open debate, demand that Americans allow speech we may oppose." He admitted that "much of what will be said at that conference may be deeply objectionable," caricaturing and demonizing the world's only Jewish state. But, ultimately, he believed the principles of the country demanded we "defend the rights of those who might not defend ours."
Despite this impassioned rationale on the part of UCLA administrators, the Zachor Legal Institute, a legal think tank and advocacy organization, filed a complaint with the Department of Education during the SJP conference. In a tweet Zachor wrote, "Zachor Legal Institute had filed a Title VI Civil Rights Act complaint with the #DOE regarding #UCLA's intentional act of anti-Semitism in hosting the #terror front #SJP hate conference this weekend. We will ensure UCLA is held accountable for this attack on #Jewish students."
The second investigation into UCLA by the Education Department involves a student harassment claim against the university made by the organization StandWithUs on behalf of student Shayna Lavi. During a lecture in her anthropology class by San Francisco State University guest professor Rabab Abdulhadi, Lavi challenged Abdulhadi's characterization of Israel as a racist endeavor, Zionists as white supremacists, and his denial of the Jewish state's right to exist. Lavi alleges that Abdulhadi then verbally harassed her. In subsequent class sessions, Lavi alleges that her anthropology professor, Kyeyoung Park, also harassed her because of her defense of Israel. Lavi claims the UCLA administration "failed to respond adequately or effectively."
UCLA's History of an Unwelcoming Environment for Jewish Students.
While we, as journalists and advocates of free speech, feel we must support the ability of SJP to meet and speak, we can't be displeased that the federal government will be investigating the UCLA campus, which has a long history of anti-Semitic student activity, in large part instigated by SJP. The director of the Hillel at UCLA joked that SJP is in part able to maintain its consistency and power because its leadership refuses to graduate. "They're on the 8-year plan," he said.
That leadership has been in a continuous effort to demonize and marginalize Jewish students, particularly those who consider support for Israel part of their identity.
Back in 2014, the student government, instigated by SJP, was applying litmus tests to fellow student government officers to ensure they would vote to support Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions (BDS). SJP filed a complaint against two student government officers for having visited Israel on trips sponsored by pro-Jewish groups. SJP didn't want the two officers to be allowed to vote on the BDS issue and claimed the trips to Israel created a conflict of interest. Eventually, the UCLA Judicial Board exonerated the two students, basically saying students can travel where they want. Meanwhile, the two students were subject to a "hurtful and threatening environment" on campus, according to the American Jewish Committee's Los Angeles Region president.
The SJP ended up getting their BDS resolution passed, meaning that the UCLA student body supported the university divesting from all Israeli investments and connections. To date, the university has not honored the student body's request.
SJP regularly attempted to prevent pro-Israeli - and thus Jewish - students from becoming members of student government. In 2015, a Jewish applicant to the student council, Rachel Beyda, was grilled over her purported inability to "maintain an unbiased view" because she was Jewish and affiliated with Jewish organizations such as Hillel, a national campus faith-based religious group. Only after a faculty adviser who was present pointed out that belonging to Jewish organizations was not a conflict of interest did the interrogation cease.
Barry A. Kosmin, a Trinity College researcher, said the student grilling was the most striking example of anti-Semitism he had come across in his extensive research of the phenomenon on college campuses.
And yet, just this past May, SJP managed to ram a resolution through the student council that condemned those calling their organization anti-Semitic. With utter contempt for the courage Chancellor Block had exhibited the previous November in defending SJP's right to hold their conference on campus, the SJP-promoted resolution condemned Block for "marginalizing" and "stigmatizing" the group by calling out their virulently anti-Zionist anti-Semitism in his LA Times article.
Apparently the SJP is all for constitutionally guaranteed free speech when it applies to them. They oppose it when it applies to anybody else.
The only vote opposing the ridiculous student council resolution condemning SJP's critics was made by Tara Steinmetz, now the only Jewish student on the student council. "To ignore how anti-Zionism can cross into anti-Semitism is problematic," she said.
UCLA's Students Supporting Israel President Justin Feldman wrote of the vote, "The repeated effort to immunize anti-Zionist perpetrators of anti-Semitism on our campus from accountability serves to show that the Undergraduate Students Association Council has a continuously ingrained issue with validating Jewish safety concerns and Jewish denunciations of hatred. The nature of how this resolution passed is an uncomfortable reminder that keeping quiet about the double standards that Jews collectively face on campus is not an option."
And so we conclude that though we unreservedly support free speech, it is appropriate and high time somebody - in this case the federal government - force UCLA to examine its highly toxic environment when it comes to Jewish students.