Last week I wrote about a resolution of the Jewish Federation-funded Jewish Council on Public Affairs (JCPA) regarding the use of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to protect pro-Israel Jewish students from campus harassment.
The draft resolution reportedly included the following:
Lawsuits and threats of legal action should not be used to censor anti-Israel events, statements, and speakers in order to ‘protect’ Jewish students … but rather for cases which evidence a systematic climate of fear and intimidation coupled with a failure of the university administration to respond with reasonable corrective measures.
At this moment, the US Department of Education Office of Civil Rights (OCR) is investigating three such complaints, including one filed by Dr. Tammi Rossman-Benjamin which argues that precisely such a ‘systematic climate’ does exist at the University of California Santa Cruz campus. The complaint documents the harassment experienced by the students in and out of the classroom, and the non-response of the faculty and administration.
Objections to Rossman-Benjamin’s complaint are couched in terms of free speech and academic freedom, so the suggestion — coming as it does from a group that styles itself “the representative voice of the organized American Jewish community” — that such complaints may be filed in order to ‘censor’ free speech is especially damaging.
If the JCPA adopts the draft resolution, it would send an alarming and demoralizing message to Jewish students: that they, unlike other victims of harassment and intimidation, should hesitate before seeking to enforce their legal right to a school environment that is physically and emotionally safe and conducive to learning, or else risk criticism and a lack of support from their own Jewish communal leaders. And it would send a dangerous and destructive message to OCR: that the agency made the wrong decision in issuing the Title VI policy protecting Jewish students, because even the Jewish community is not united behind it. At the least, the Resolution could encourage government officials to take Title VI complaints by Jewish students less seriously, because Jewish communal leaders themselves are so wary of this legal remedy.
On Monday, the JCPA board adopted a modified form of the resolution, which includes this:
It is not in the Jewish community’s best interest to invoke Title VI to promote a “politically correct” environment in which legitimate debate about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is squelched and academic freedom is undermined, because use of the remedy in such circumstances could undermine its long-term effectiveness. It may also be in conflict with basic values of tolerance and ideological moderation important to many contemporary college students, thereby potentially alienating both Jewish and non-Jewish students from the rest of the Jewish community and significantly harming the Jewish student community on campus. [my emphasis]
If anything, the mention of ‘political correctness’ and ‘squelching’ debate is more damaging than the originally reported evocation of ‘censorship’.
But worse, the argument reeks of cowardice: “don’t make too much noise, because it will only increase antisemitism.” Isn’t this the same argument that was used against those who tried to get Roosevelt to take action to rescue Jews during WWII? Should American Jews give up their rights as Americans in order not to ‘alienate’ the majority?
To add insult to injury, the JCPA then issued a misleading press release which calls for “campus leaders to do more to combat anti-Jewish and anti-Israel activity” and deemphasizes the highly negative slant toward Title VI taken by their ‘statement’ (they’ve stopped calling it a ‘resolution’).
JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow said “We are taught that there is a time to break down and a time to build up. And there is a time to foster dialogue just as there is a time to go to court.” Certainly in the case of the University of California, Santa Cruz, fostering dialogue hasn’t worked.
So why is Gutow’s JCPA is doing its best to reduce the probability of prevailing in court as well?