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February 7, 2018 by

Backing Marcus Harms Students and Survivors—And Citing His Anti-BDS Views Doesn’t Make That Okay

The confirmation hearing of Kenneth Marcus.

The confirmation hearing of Kenneth Marcus.

In this video, Elizabeth Warren asks Kenneth Marcus—Trump’s choice to lead the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights and president of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law—a few scenario-based questions during his hearing. If there was a school district where some schools had mostly white students and some schools had mostly black students, and the schools with mostly white students had better teachers, more Advanced Placement offerings and resources, would that be considered discrimination? Marcus responded tepidly by dancing around the very clear violation of black students’ civil rights. All he would say was that if he were confirmed he would “review the facts” of the case to see if it were a violation of Title VI, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race. This question wasn’t a hypothetical. It’s a real-life example from Toledo, Ohio.

It gets worse. Marcus agrees with Betsy DeVos’s dangerous choice to rescind the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter (DCL), written to explain how schools should be supporting students after an assault occurs, under the false pretense that the DCL preferences survivors over accused students. Without the DCL, both survivors and accused students are now at risk in an environment where a person like Larry Nassar was able to abuse over 250 young women because Michigan State refused to step in. How many of these women would have been spared had MSU followed their Title IX obligations properly when they received their first complaint about him in 2014? (Specifically in this case, if they had been wary of potential conflicts of interest that may arise during internal investigations.)

It is heartening to see Jewish organizations like NCJW and JWI oppose Marcus’s nomination. But not all are. Which asks the question: How could any Jewish organization, especially ones that believe in civil rights and safety for all students, approve of a person who seems to have little investment in protecting students’ civil rights?

You will find the answer in perhaps the most divisive subject amongst our people—Israel. Organizations like Hillel International are supporting the confirmation of Marcus because he includes criticism of Israel and BDS in his definition of anti-Semitism.

There is indeed anti-Semitism that exists in our country and on college campuses, just as there is Islamophobia, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and unending bigotry against minority groups. As Dove Kent said in their recent talk for AVODAH and UJA, titled “Ending Anti-Semitism Through Solidarity,” “It’s in the water.” The left is getting so much better at acknowledging anti-Semitism as a part of the interlocking systems of oppression, and fighting it even within their own communities. There is also anti-Semitism that gets wrapped up in anti-Zionism, and conversations about Israel-Palestine. That’s where it gets the messiest, and most complicated. We must address anti-Semitism wherever it is found, even when it is hard to do.

But to say that every criticism of Israel and/or all anti-Zionism is anti-Semitic is a slap in the face of every activist who loves Israel with their entire heart, who lives within its borders, pays its taxes, eats from its fruit trees, drinks its water, but who also believes that a better, safer, more equitable Israel is possible. I have sat around many a Shabbat dinner table where individuals were incredibly critical of President Obama and the United States, some comments even occasionally bordering on racist, and not once were these individuals criticized as being “anti-American.” Why do we refuse to give critics of Israel that same right to express themselves? Who gets to draw the line? As my friend Tamar, a law student in Jerusalem who made Aliyah, has said to me: it’s easy for Americans who live in the diaspora to shut out criticism of Israel and Palestinian grievances because they don’t have to deal with the consequences of not working together for peace.

But beyond the contested question of how to define anti-Semitism, this dichotomy of Zionists v. Survivors set up by the Jewish community is reprehensible. These discussions are too important to be setting up binaries. There are survivors of violence and sexual attacks who are Zionist, and survivors who are anti-Zionist. Every single one of them deserves to pursue an education free from violence, with the protections to their education guaranteed to them through Title IX. To use combatting criticism of Israel as a shield to defend Marcus will end up hurting all survivors of violence and is simply unacceptable. No matter a person’s opinion about BDS, or about Zionism, students have the civil rights that should be inalienable.

Supporting someone like Marcus does a disservice to our American definitions of civil rights, the first amendment, and to survivors of campus assault who rely on these civil rights in order to pursue educations free from violence.

I’m anxious about publishing this piece. I worry that people I know may feel like they can completely shut down my point of view because I am disagreeing with a normative view of the “pro-Israel” community. I ask that instead of shutting me down, reach out to me. Share why you disagree. Let’s talk. But please, don’t deny the civil rights of students who are trying to have these nuanced and hard conversations that older adults also struggle with. And don’t harm those who are just trying to get through their years of college without the intrusions of gender-based violence.

Rebecca Krevat works in advertising, is a former volunteer with Know Your IX, and is currently co-leading Hitoreri: An Orthodox Movement for Social Change. She lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and tweets at @RebeccaKrevat.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Lilith Magazine.