Daily Pilot:Senators query racism report

Published Saturday, March 8, 2008 9:30 PM PST

Education

Sens. query racism report

Senators question what they see as discrepancies between anti-Semitism report at UCI and policies of Education Department.

Questions about anti-Semitism and harassment at UCI, which has seen two separate reports in recent months on the subject, now involves three U.S. senators.

The three senators on the U.S. Senate Committee of the Judiciary recently sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Education calling into question some portions of its investigation into alleged anti-Semitism on UCI’s campus.

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) questioned the investigation, focusing on what they characterized as inconsistencies in “prior policy statements” held by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights with the conclusions in its report on anti-Semitism allegations at UCI. The Zionist Organization of America in 2004 initially filed the complaint, and the department’s report was issued in November.

The university has been rocked in recent years by complaints about anti-Semitism, much of which revolve around controversial speakers who criticize Israel.

“The letter is indicative of a concern that people have in this country for this type of hatred on campus,” said Ted Bleiweis, a spokesman for the independent task force that issued a report — after the Office of Civil Rights’ report was released — suggesting there is a problem with anti-Semitism at UCI.

Bleiweis believes the letter will force a follow-up to the Office of Civil Rights’ investigation. Bleiweis also challenged UCI to speak out on the subject.

A UCI spokeswoman said university officials have no comment, as the issue is mainly between the Senate Judiciary and the Office of Civil Rights, but UCI will keep an eye on how the situation unfolds.

The majority of concerns in the letter stem from Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which address harassment on the basis of national origin, race or ethnicity, among other items, but doesn’t allow authority over discrimination based solely on religion.

In the Office of Civil Rights report, investigators concluded there was no “pattern or practice” of discrimination on UCI’s part.

The report also stated some of the allegations were beyond its authority under Title VI because the alleged discrimination complaints were religious in nature.

The senators — who declined comment, saying the letter speaks for itself — saw the situation differently, arguing that the civil rights officials’ interpretation of Title VI contradicted earlier statements as well as a U.S. Commission on Civil Rights study.

“The Commission was concerned with the seriousness of the problems Jewish students were facing and specifically recommended that OCR vigorously enforce Title VI to ensure that they were protected from ani-Semitic harassment,” according to the letter.

Title VI, according to the letter, should be used to counter harassment of Jewish students and asks for the Office of Civil Rights to answer questions regarding the investigation, including an explanation of its current policy concerning Title VI; why, if any, policies were changed since the initial complaint was filed in 2004; why there was a two-year gap between the complaint and OCR visiting UCI’s campus, and a three-year period before a decision was issued; and why some suggested Zionist Organization of America witnesses were not interviewed.

A Department of Education spokesman said the department has received the letter and that it is under review.

“At a time when campus anti-Semitism is such a problem you’d think this federal agency would broadly interpret Title VI,” said Director of ZOA’s Center for Law and Justice, Susan Tuchman. “These senators agree that this is a problem.”

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