Head of Jewish Human Rights Group Nominated to Top Civil Rights Post at US Education Department
The head of a prominent Jewish human rights group has been chosen for the top civil rights post at the US Department of Education, the White House announced on Thursday.
Kenneth L. Marcus — the founding president of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law — is being nominated to serve as assistant secretary at the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) under Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
Marcus previously took up the same role under President George W. Bush in 2003, before serving as staff director of the US Commission on Civil Rights between 2004 and 2008.
He continued his advocacy after leaving government and founding the Brandeis Center in 2012, whose mission “is to advance the civil and human rights of the Jewish people and to promote justice for all.”
Marcus — who authored the books Jewish Identity and Civil Rights in America in 2010 and The Definition of Anti-Semitism in 2015 — has frequently raised the alarm on what he described as rising antisemitism on American college campuses, which he said the OCR was failing to properly handle.
“[When] it comes to anti-Semitism on campus, the agency has been paralyzed,” Marcus wrote in January. “The reason for OCR’s powerlessness is that it is ill-equipped to recognize anti-Semitism when it sees it,” he argued, before recommending that the agency adopt the State Department’s definition of antisemitism.
Marcus has also identified the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel as one of the leading factors driving anti-Jewish attitudes on campus, arguing in September 2013 that some tactics used by BDS supporters — including harassment, vandalism, and even assault — represent “a violation of the civil rights of Jewish students.”
Marcus emphasized that the issues at hand “are legal — not political” — despite the dismissal a month earlier of three complaints filed with the OCR over alleged antisemitic harassment at several University of California campuses.
If confirmed, Marcus will replace Candice Jackson, who drew criticism in July for suggesting that the majority of sexual assault cases on university campuses stem from either mutual drunkenness or breakups. Democratic lawmakers accused Jackson in August of displaying “hostility towards the very mission and functions of the office she is charged to lead.”
David Krone, who served as chief of staff to former Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, told The Algemeiner on Friday that “while some Democrats have had serious concerns about the Office during the first ten months of this administration, I think with Ken they will find an individual who not only understands the mission of the agency, but also its importance combating discrimination and antisemitism.”
“He is an outstanding individual who I believe will work with both Republicans and Democrats on their common goal to stand up to hatred, which sadly seems to have spread throughout America,” Krone added.
This sentiment was shared by Clifford May, founder and president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, who noted that during his time at the Brandeis Center, “Mr. Marcus worked with legislators and stakeholders from both sides of the aisle.”
May observed that Marcus is a “brilliant lawyer” with “particular expertise in combating anti-Semitism — a form of discrimination that has been too often ignored in recent years both on campuses and by the Department of Education.” He pointed out that the department “has never found a single incident of actionable anti-Semitism on college campuses,” despite multiple reports of bias against Jewish students.
Mark G. Yudof — who chairs the advisory board of the anti-BDS group Academic Engagement Network, similarly called Marcus “an extremely smart, articulate, and fair-minded individual,” indicating that he “will move forcefully to protect Jewish students and faculty from antisemitism, whether overt or embedded in narratives on BDS.”
Yudof dismissed criticism from the pro-BDS group Palestine Legal, which claimed on Thursday that Marcus “has spent years pressuring universities to punish students who advocate for Palestinian rights” and placed “him squarely in the company of white supremacist, anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian ideologues.”
“Ken has not campaigned against free speech for pro-Palestinian groups,” said Yudof, who also served as president of the University of California between 2008 and 2013. “It is absurd to describe him as a white supremacist, anti-Muslim or anti-Palestinian ideologue. He seeks to provide the same legal protections to Jewish students that are afforded to other minorities on the campuses.”
May likewise characterized the allegations as “utter nonsense,” remarking that “no one should be so naïve as to believe that BDS proponents seek peaceful coexistence. Their goal — as their spokesmen have clearly articulated — is the destruction of the Jewish state.”