Kenneth L. Marcus, the assistant secretary for civil rights at the Department of Education, has reopened a 7-year-old case of alleged discrimination against Jewish students at Rutgers University.
The case was brought to the DOE’s attention in 2011 by the Zionist Organization of America. ZOA alleged that Jewish students who attended a free campus event titled “Never Again for Anyone” were charged for entrance while non-Jewish students were not.
The DOE closed the case in 2014, stating that “the evidence failed to substantiate any specific incidents in which the fee requirement was imposed unequally on Jewish or non-Jewish attendees.”
Marcus’ decision to reopen the case was applauded by the Israeli-American Coalition for Action.
“As Jewish and Israeli students are attacked more and more for their identity, this case could help turn the tide against rising anti-Semitism on increasingly hostile college campuses,” IAC for Action Chairman Shawn Evenhaim said in a statement. “We were proud to support Mr. Marcus’ nomination because of his exemplary record fighting anti-Semitism in the United States. We are both reassured and optimistic about how this case could have wide-reaching implications to protect college students from religious and ethnically motivated bigotry.”
Morton Klein, president of the ZOA since 1993, echoed that sentiment.
“It was such a black-and-white case,” Klein said. “Back then, we had conclusive proof that they had made a decision to only charge Jews to try to keep them out.”
The incident in question took place January 2011 and was organized by several groups, including Belief, Awareness, Knowledge and Action (BAKA). According to a recounting of the event by PalestineLegal.org, “pro-Israel protestors physically assaulted event volunteers and called them ‘towelheads’ and ‘suicide bombers,’ among other sexist, racist and homophobic slurs. A Jewish volunteer reported being called a ‘traitor’ and several students faced cyberbullying after the event via email and on Facebook.”
Susan B. Tuchman, director of ZOA’s Center for Law and Justice, disputed that account, noting that none of the Rutgers students she worked with mentioned behavior of that nature.
As part of the initial investigation, ZOA provided the DOE with emails sent between BAKA members that a $5 admission fee needed to be charged because “150 Zionists just showed up. … If someone looks like a supporter, they can get in for free.”
In a letter obtained by the Jewish Exponent, Marcus wrote to Tuchman that “the presence of ‘150 Zionists’ referenced in the email could have been rooted in a perception of Jewish ancestry or ethnic characteristics common to a group. In cases such as this, it is important to determine whether terms such as ‘Zionist’ are actually code for ‘Jewish.’”
The reopening of the case indicates an ongoing shift in the priorities of the department since the confirmation of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos in February 2017.
In June, ProPublica.org reported that the DOE had closed more than 12,000 cases that began under the Obama administration and lasted at least six months, ranging from civil rights violations to sexual violence.
This is not the first time Rutgers has been in the spotlight as a result of perceived anti-Semitism on campus. Most recently, food science professor Michael Chikindas lost his role as a director and his ability to teach required classes after reportedly posting dozens of anti-Jewish and anti-Israel comments on his Facebook page in 2017.