Author Kenneth L. Marcus will share details from his latest book, The Definition of Anti-Semitism, in which he elaborates on the link between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, and how this is impacting the critiques of Israel on university campuses at a Beyond the Book Festival event.
Not expecting to dedicate so much time during his career to the battle against campus anti-Semitism, the American civil rights attorney left his law firm in 2001 to fight housing discrimination and then to head the civil rights branch of the U.S. Education Department. His work involved protecting the rights of racial and ethnic minorities, women and the disabled. However, during that time and then as director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Marcus discovered that anti-Semitism was surging on university campuses.
Marcus soon realized that government and university leaders were ill-equipped to deal with the problem, and worked on new policies to address religious prejudice, including guidelines specific to the rise in anti-Semitism. In 2011, Marcus founded the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law to advance the civil and human rights of the Jewish people and promote justice for all, with a primary mandate to use legal tools to fight campus anti-Semitism. Today, he serves as the organization’s president and general counsel.
Although a working definition of anti-Semitism and a connection between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism exists, they are not consistently used. For example, the U.S. government applies its State Department definition of anti-Semitism to incidents that occur outside the United States, but not to those that apply domestically. Part of the problem, according to Marcus, is that anti-Semitism is not widely understood. Education, he says, should be the first step, but when education is insufficient, more forceful, concerted efforts, including the employment of law and public policy are necessary, which is the specialty of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law.
Anti-Israel activity on American college campuses led by student groups promoting Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns against Israel to isolate the Jewish state, makes students feel uncomfortable and unsafe. These activities also contradict the theory that universities are meant to offer safe spaces for civil debate on the exchange of ideas and education among students and professors.
The BDS movement is not new; it only extends age-old anti-Jewish hatred in new settings. In The Definition of Anti-Semitism, Marcus traces BDS origins to 1933 and beyond as the Nazi boycott was one of the first steps in the planned extermination of the Jewish people, providing a formal structure to justify the attacks on Jewish businesses. Similarly, Marcus affirms the BDS movement provides a new rationalization in the politically correct terminology of today, for the anti-Jewish boycotts.
Marcus will offer suggestions for college students to use in the fight against on-campus racism, as well as a better understanding of the new forms of anti-Semitism plaguing the world. His visit will kick off the Community Relations Council and Simon Family JCC’s three part series focusing on anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment on university campuses.
The Definition of Anti-Semitism will be available for purchase and signing after the program.
This Beyond the Festival, Simon Family JCC Lee & Bernard Jaffe* Family Jewish Book Festival event with author Kenneth Marcus, is free and open to the community with RSVP (required), to firstname.lastname@example.org or 965-6107.
Tammi Rossman Benjamin Tammi Rossman-Benjamin is cofounder and director of AMCHA Initiative, a non-profit organization that investigates, documents and combats anti-Semitism at institutions of higher education in America, and was a faculty member in Hebrew and Jewish Studies at the University of California from 1996 - 2016.