The Education Department’s new civil rights head has re-opened a discrimination case against Rutgers University brought by a Zionist group that the Obama administration closed four years ago — essentially changing the definition of anti-Semitism on campuses, according to a New York Times report.
Kenneth Marcus, the recently-confirmed assistant secretary of education for civil rights, announced the move in an Aug. 27 letter to the Zionist Organization of America, and looked at the group’s case as discrimination against an ethnic group, not as religious discrimination, the Times reported.
Marcus is also adopting a definition of anti-Semitism that includes “claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor,” the Times reported.
Marcus’ appointment was fiercely opposed by pro-Palestinian activists, who refer to him as a “crusader” who “has spent years advocating for laws and policies aimed at punishing students who advocate for Palestinian rights.”
The federal government’s decision “classifies virtually all criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic,” the group Palestinian Legal said in a statement Tuesday.
ZOA’s complaint, filed in 2011, accused the pro-Palestinian group Belief Awareness Knowledge and Action of charging Jewish and pro-Israeli students an admission fee to attend a campus event, the Times reported. At issue was a heavily-redacted e-mail that suggested the fees were charged after “150 Zionists” showed up.
The group’s organizers contended that they charged a fee at the last minute to cover increased rent and security costs, and federal investigators at the time found all attendees paid a fee to get in, the Times reported.
Marcus wrote that he wants to re-examine that e-mail, writing, “In cases such as these, it is important to determine whether terms such as ‘Zionist are actually code for ‘Jewish,'” the Times reported.
ZOA praised Marcus’ decision as “ground-breaking.”
“It took a leader like Kenneth Marcus to finally decide the ZOA’s appeal and to also make it clear that (Office of Civil Rights) will finally be using a definition of anti-Semitism that makes sense and that reflects how anti-Semitism is so frequently expressed today, particularly on our college campuses,” ZOA president Morton Klein said in a statement this month.