Kenneth Marcus, of the Louis D. Brandeis Center, helped launch a chapter at the University of Minnesota that will educate law students about anti-Semitism
By ERIN ELLIOTT BRYAN / Community News Editor
More than half of 1,157 self-identified Jewish college students at 55 campuses around the United States reported having been subjected to or having witnessed anti-Semitism on their campuses. This is according to the National Demographic Survey of American Jewish College Students, which was released in February by Trinity College and the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law (LDB).
The survey was conducted in the spring of 2014, before the conflict in Gaza.
In 2015, several incidents of anti-Semitism have been reported at campuses in the University of California system: “Zionists should be sent to the gas chamber” was found written on a bathroom wall at UC Berkeley; a Jewish applicant for a student union position found her suitability questioned on the basis of her religion at UCLA; and swastikas were painted on a Jewish fraternity house at UC Davis.
And the Anti-Defamation League noted other incidences of campus anti-Semitism that have been reported so far this year: a student at Drexel University in Philadelphia found a swastika and the word “JEW” taped next to his Israeli flag; vandalism at the University of Missouri included a swastika, the Illuminati symbol, the word “heil,” and later, another swastika and the words, “You’ve been warned”; and anti-Semitic posts on a Facebook page called UChicago Secrets included “People are hypocrites. This is a fact. One example? The Jews at UChicago…” and “As a Person of Palestinian descent, I don’t think it is unreasonable or horrific for me to hate Jews…”
“What we’re finding is that campus anti-Semitism is no longer a California problem nor is it just a bicoastal problem,” said Kenneth Marcus, president and general counsel of LDB (which has no connection to Brandeis University), in a recent visit to the AJW office. “It has penetrated to the heartland of the United States and we’re seeing it at places that seemed completely peaceful and harmonious just a few years ago.”
Marcus was in the Twin Cities to launch the newest LDB chapter at the University of Minnesota, which marks the continued expansion of the Brandeis Center Law Student Chapter Initiative. Chapters already exist at William Mitchell College of Law in Minneapolis and St. Thomas School of Law in St. Paul (11-21-14 AJW); 16 chapters exist around the country.
Marcus said LDB chapters provide educational opportunities, such as speakers and events, so that law students understand the problem of anti-Semitism, and how anti-Israel hate often crosses the line into anti-Semitism. Chapters will also offer education and training on civil rights law and human rights law.
“If all they did was to provide education, that would be enough, but these students usually want to do more,” Marcus said. “They want to use their legal skills to fight against campus anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism, including the BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) movement. In many cases, they serve as mentors and advisors to the undergraduates using their legal tools and training.”
In a video posted on the LDB Web site, Marcus explains the organization’s three-step approach to combatting anti-Semitism on campus: research, such as the study conducted with Trinity College; education, such as public events, scholarly articles and blogs; and advocacy, such as legal action brought against an institution.
LDB’s expertise is in law and public policy, and Marcus wrote some of the federal policies that deal with issues of anti-Semitism. LDB staff educates university administrators about the line between political criticism and anti-Semitism, and helps them develop effective practices to address anti-Semitism and racism on their campuses.
“Law schools turn out some of the most influential people in society,” Marcus said. “Some law students will become state legislators and other policy makers within just a few years of graduating. So we can’t be in a position where anti-Israel activists have taken over the law schools, and the Jewish community is playing catch-up.”
LDB also encourages colleges and universities to adopt the U.S. State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism, which was put forth by the Obama administration in 2010. That definition is also based in part on the “three-D test” developed by Natan Sharansky, chairman of the executive of the Jewish Agency for Israel.
“Anti-Israel incidents may cross the line into the anti-Semitism when they involve demonization, delegitimization or double standards,” Marcus said. “We need to speak with one voice, to stay united and to support our students.”
(Sharansky’s “three Ds” is also referenced in a 30-minute film titled Crossing the Line 2: The New Face of Anti-Semitism on Campus. The film will be screened locally on Nov. 1 as part of the Twin Cities Jewish Film Festival).
Additionally, Marcus has written a new book titled The Definition of Anti-Semitism (Oxford University Press), which explores how the definition has evolved from a racial character in the 19th century to a focus on political language associated with anti-Zionism — making it much harder to identify. He also combines a legal analysis of the meaning of anti-Semitism with an examination of the current public debates.
Offering advance praise for the book, Maurice Samuels, a Yale University professor and director of the Yale Program for the Study of Anti-Semitism, writes that it “offers a smart guide to understanding what is at stake in efforts to define anti-Semitism today, and sheds light on the crucial question of the relation between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.”
The book’s cover image is from artist Samuel Bak’s series based on a well-known photo of a Jewish boy from the Warsaw Ghetto.
“I wrote this book because we found time and time again that university officials and government officials were paralyzed because they could not come to grips with the definition of anti-Semitism,” Marcus said. “Too often they were unable to respond to clear instances of anti-Jewish hatred because they thought it was political rather than hate-filled. In this book, I clarify this problem and hope that it will strengthen the resolve of people with influence.”
Marcus said he expects the problem of anti-Semitism on college campuses to get worse around the country and that there could be “significant conflicts” in the Twin Cities this year.
“Based on what we’re hearing, this is likely to be a difficult couple of semesters and the Jewish community needs to be ready here in Minnesota,” Marcus said.
But he said the community can help by supporting the students on campus and the leaders of the LDB chapters.
“I think that we have it within our power to change history. We don’t know whether the recent resurgence of anti-Semitism will turn out to be a mere historical anomaly or whether it’s the beginning of a trend that will get worse and worse,” Marcus said. “I can’t tell you how impressed I have been with the energy and commitment of so many law students here in Minneapolis and St. Paul. They are under so much pressure when it comes to schoolwork and exams and jobs that it’s amazing that they’re involved at all. But they’re passionate, they’re committed, they’re doing terrific work and we need to do everything we can to back them up.”
Since 1912 the AJW has served as an important news resource for the Jewish community. The Jewish World unites the main Jewish communities in St. Paul and Minneapolis, as well as those in Duluth, Rochester and smaller cities, and bridges the divides between the various Jewish religious streams.