DOE Uses 'Contested' Definition of Anti-Semitism to Revisit Case

Department taking new look at 2011 discrimination claims against Jewish students at Rutgers
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 12, 2018 7:49 AM CDT
Kenneth Marcus speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington on Dec. 5, 2017.   (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

(Newser) – In a move the New York Times says supports a "hotly contested definition of anti-Semitism," the Department of Education has announced it's vacating a 2014 ruling by the Obama administration and reopening a case against Rutgers University brought by a conservative Zionist group. The case, per Haaretz, involves a 2011 pro-Palestinian rally held at Rutgers that brought claims the event discriminated against Jewish students by charging them a fee while others entered for free. The previous administration found there was no civil rights violation, but in an Aug. 27 letter to the Zionist Organization of America, Kenneth L. Marcus, a pro-Israel advocate who heads up the DOE's Office for Civil Rights, noted the fresh look at the case would reframe the cause as one of ethnic discrimination, not religious freedom, and stand behind an expanded definition of anti-Semitism used by the State Department.

The ZOA calls the DOE's move a "groundbreaking decision." "It took a leader like Kenneth Marcus to finally decide the ZOA's appeal and to also make it clear that OCR will finally be using a definition of anti-Semitism that makes sense," the group said in a statement, per the Times. But Palestinian and human rights groups say this more pro-Israel stance could lead to targeting Zionism opponents. "It's certainly something that we feared would happen," the director of Palestine Legal notes of the expanded definition, which she says "opens the door to equate any criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism," per Politico. The Times notes the DOE's decision to reassess the Zionist group's claims comes after the Trump administration moved the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, as well as announced the shuttering of the Palestine Liberation Organization's DC office.

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