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Campus diversity efforts get antisemitism blame | Times Higher Education (THE)

A rising chorus of conservative lawmakers is putting blame on campus diversity efforts, leftist faculty and large numbers of international students as leading reasons for growing indications of antisemitism at US universities.

The emerging perspective was showcased at a hearing of the Education Committee in the Republican-majority US House of Representatives that cited widespread campus protests over the violence in Israel and Gaza as grounds for justifying longstanding conservative calls to place academia under stricter government controls and oversight.

The federal lawmakers were joined by some sympathetic leaders from Jewish communities, including Kenneth Marcus, the founder and chairman of the Louis D. Brandeis Centre for Human Rights Under Law, who warned of an anti-white ideology behind efforts to promote diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).

“Too often, Jews are viewed as being ultra-white oppressors” in the DEI context, said Mr Marcus, a head of the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights during the Trump and George W. Bush administrations.

The lawmakers held their session after five weeks of angry campus protests on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide, that has led to dozens of arrests, removals of some staff, suspensions of some student groups, and withdrawals of donor support at several institutions.

The congressional session reflected that high level of emotion. Among Republicans, Glenn Grothman of Wisconsin suggested that anti-Israel protests at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and other US campuses were related to their high numbers of overseas students. Bob Good of Virginia said there was evidence that Iran is funding anti-Israel agitation on US campuses.

Mary Miller of Illinois called for the expulsion from the US of any international students who join anti-Israel protests, Nathaniel Moran of Texas said that campus DEI offices were antisemitic in nature, and Elise Stefanik of New York said that some US colleges have a “curriculum that calls for the eradication of the Israeli people and the genocide of the Jewish people”.

Despite its nominal focus on campus antisemitism, almost no time during the three-hour session was spent examining the definition of antisemitism and the widespread tendency to equate it with opposition to the policies of Israel’s current government. Mr Marcus did, however, recommend using the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism, “which indicates that not all criticism of Israel is antisemitic”.

Yet he also suggested alignment with several Republican lawmakers who described criticism of Israel as affirming faculty-driven ideological biases on US campuses. “It can’t be coincidental”, he told the Congress, “that we have on so many campuses an environment that has become so hostile to Jews and Israelis at the same time that anti-Zionist attitudes are so prevalent within the faculty themselves, and those anti-Zionist attitudes are sometimes coupled with left-wing ideology.”

The Department of Education’s civil rights office has attracted sustained attention among those seeing a crisis in campus antisemitism. The office ostensibly has the authority to cut federal funding to colleges that fail to prohibit discrimination in their programmes or activities – a power it has never exercised because of its severity – yet it has received almost no student complaints on the topic of antisemitism. Last year, amid a record 19,000 complaints submitted to the civil rights office, only five concerned anti-Jewish discrimination.

Mr Marcus said in an interview that he can’t see a clear reason why the office has seen so few antisemitism cases, but suggested it was likely related to the tendency of certain groups – such as parents with special needs children, and student athletes – to more routinely find the office useful to them. The office also was created without a specific mandate to handle religious-based discrimination, though it has shifted in practice to consider antisemitism, he said.

The enforcement office’s main challenge, therefore, is to more actively seek out problems, rather than just create a government website and wait for problems to be reported to it, Mr Marcus said. “What we really need to see is not just a sharing of hyperlinks, but rather an investigation of campuses,” he said.

And another antisemitism expert, Stacy Burdett, an independent consultant and former vice-president for government relations at the Anti-Defamation League, pleaded with the lawmakers to stop suggesting that Jews would be helped by the elimination of DEI offices.

“Diversity, equity and inclusion work maybe wasn’t set up to anticipate a group of mostly white people scared of hate crimes,” Ms Burdett said. “But it can be enhanced, and the people that I work with have adapted, and are protecting Jews now. So don’t bring it down on account of us – we need it.”

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