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EDITORIAL: Reopened investigation is interesting

In 2011, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights investigated a complaint issued by the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) that alleged the University violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and discriminated on the basis of national origin against students of Jewish ancestry by failing to adequately respond to multiple allegations of unequal treatment and harassment. One of the main allegations came with regard to a pro-Palestinian organization called Belief Awareness Knowledge and Action (BAKA), which ZOA said treated Jewish students differently by imposing an entrance fee only on Jewish students at an on-campus event. The case was originally dropped under former President Barack Obama’s administration due to an apparent lack of evidence of such discrimination, but Kenneth Marcus, the new assistant secretary of education for civil rights, is reopening the case. 

Marcus believes that there may, in fact, have been sufficient evidence to prove discrimination of some sort did occur that day. The most pressing of which is in reference to an email that had been disregarded as evidence in the original investigation due to reactions made for confidentiality reasons. The original record shows, and the student who received the email apparently corroborates on the record, that the email stated an admission fee needed to be imposed because, “150 Zionists just showed up,” but that, “if someone looks like a supporter, they can get in for free.”

What seems as though it must be established to determine if discrimination based on national origin did occur in this situation is whether the term “Zionist” was equivocally used to refer to the Jewish people simply present. And, in turn, another question becomes: How did those event organizers know that the people who just showed up were Zionist without asking them each individually? It is not far-fetched to think that some assumptions, and subsequent decisions as a result of those assumptions, may have been made based on the way certain students or attendees appeared. Either way, being that this situation occurred approximately seven years ago, it is unclear what exactly can come of this investigation.

Interestingly, the reopening of the investigation comes with a widened definition of what might count as anti-Semitic. The working definition is already in use by the State Department, and is made to include types of anti-Israel activity and speech. This definition of anti-Semitism being utilized clearly brings up an interesting discussion regarding free speech on campus, and is something that many pro-Palestine groups are a bit concerned about. 

Of course, discouraging and preventing anti-Semitism is something the University and the Rutgers community should rightfully be concerned about, but with a widened definition of anti-Semitism that includes anti-Israel speech, it is reasonable to question just how much of an effect it could have on critical discussion of Israel’s governmental actions. In other words, will critical speech of pro-Palestine groups on campus be curtailed as a result of the risk of such speech being interpreted as anti-Semitic? If so, there could be a chilling effect on public discourse regarding the issue — and this, to some, would seemingly be contrary to the American value of free expression. 


The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 150th editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.