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December 14, 2022 3:14 pm
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Jewish Students Not Protected by Anti-Discrimination and Harassment Polices on College Campuses, New Report Says

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avatar by Dion J. Pierre

An anti-Israel ‘apartheid wall’ at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Photo: Students for Justice in Palestine at UTK Facebook page.

University policies prohibiting discrimination and harassment seldom protect Zionist and pro-Israel students, according to a study by antisemitism watchdog AMCHA Initiative.

Released on Wednesday, the report, titled “Falling Through the Cracks: How School Policies Deny Jewish Students Equal Protection from Campus Antisemitism,” found that Jewish students who report being victims of anti-Zionist harassment and discrimination have to rely on administrators judging alleged offenders’ actions based on a general student code of conduct, which often lack the same protections as discrimination and harassment policies aimed at keeping schools in compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.

“Despite the fact that anti-Zionist motivated attacks often meet the threshold for harassment articulated in schools’ harassment policies, the unfair discrepancy between these two policies means the exact same harmful behavior will be addressed promptly and vigorously for some students, but ignored or downplayed when it comes to Jewish students,” said report co-author and AMCHA executive director Tammi Rossman-Benjamin.

Rossman-Benjamin added that the “normalizing of antisemitism” in every facet of life obligates universities to ensure that anti-Zionist discrimination is explicitly prohibited on the campus.

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According to the report, inconsistent definitions of wrongdoing are another problem. 25 percent of universities surveyed, for example, included verbal abuse as a form of harassment but left the category out of codes of conduct, and less than 40% of codes of conduct defined as harassment as “conduct that limited, interfered with, or impaired a student’s ability to participate in campus life,” while every harassment policy did.

“60% of schools most popular with Jewish students do not recognize this crucial impact of the harassing behavior, and are therefore less likely to treat such behavior as seriously as they do when directed at members of ‘protected’ identity groups,” it said.

Additionally, over a third of schools surveyed in the report clearly state in their codes of conducted that those found to have harassed students belonging to protected identity groups would be punished to the highest degree, creating, the report continued, “a more robust deterrent against the harassment of students in ‘protected’ identity groups than against Jewish victims” who are not similarly categorized.

Jewish students also lack “special administrative offices” assigned to process complaints of antisemitic discrimination and harassment, the report said.

“In more than three quarters of the schools, complaints of harassment targeting students in ‘protected’ identity group were handled by a special administrative office that focused on handling complaints of harassment and discrimination exclusively,” it added. “While complaints about harassing conduct directed at Jewish students covered only by the school’s code of conduct were handled by the same office that handles all student conduct complaints.”

AMCHA recommended that universities grant Jewish students “protected” status or adopt a “single standard to judge objectionable behavior.” It also proposed new legislation, similar to the Title VI of the Civil Right Act, that would protects all students attending schools funded by state and local governments.

“In light of significant disparities between how ‘protected’ and ‘unprotected’ students are treated under their schools’ policies, it is clear that efforts to obtain equal and adequate protection for Jewish students must be directed in one of two ways,” the group concluded.

Jewish groups have asked the US Department of Education to protect Jewish students from anti-Zionist discrimination and harassment under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, but an Executive Order issued by former President Donald Trump in 2019 directing the department’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) to do so has not yet led to new regulations under the Biden administration.

The DOE initially pledged to issue new regulations based on the order in September 2020, but later said it would happen in January 2021. After President Joe Biden was sworn in on January 20, the administration embraced the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, but postponed action on the order to December.

In February, thirty-nine members of the US Congress in an open letter urged the Department of Education to issue the promised Title VI guidance. The letter noted reports of Jewish students increasingly concealing their identity and avoiding social activities or classes that may expose to them to antisemitic bullying and harassment. It also cited a recent survey by Alums for Campus Fairness in which 75% of 500 respondents said that antisemitism remains a “very serious problem.”

 

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