In October, President Trump nominated alum Kenneth Marcus ’88 to be the next assistant secretary for civil rights in the U.S. Department of Education. His appointment was confirmed by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP) this week and will soon be sent to the Senate for a full vote. As the founder of a right-wing, pro-Israel lobbying organization, Marcus has an extensive record of repressing Palestine activism on college campuses, conflating anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism, opposing civil rights, bullying and intimidating students and fighting against affirmative action. If confirmed for this position, Marcus would have power over the federal education policies intended to safeguard student groups from discrimination and would have the ability to determine the outcomes of campus civil rights investigations. As student activists and proud members of Williams College Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), we are deeply disturbed by his nomination.
In recent years, college campuses have been sites of repression of Palestine activism. From targeted campaigns against bold professors who speak up for justice and equality, to the creation of McCarthyist websites like Canary Mission that smear student activists, to frivolous lawsuits waged by right-wing firms against Palestine advocacy groups on campuses, examples of the silencing of Palestine advocacy are endless. In particular, the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement has faced suppression, which would only continue if Marcus were confirmed. BDS is a nonviolent, rights-based movement started by ordinary citizens in Palestinian civil society that encourages a global boycott of Israel. It targets oppressive policies and the institutions and companies that uphold them. BDS counters all forms of discrimination, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, and “upholds the simple principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity,” according to bdsmovement.net. The movement’s specific demands for Israel include dismantling the separation wall and ending occupation of the West Bank, recognizing the rights of Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel and abiding by international law with respect to refugees. We support this movement wholeheartedly.
Marcus has branded BDS as anti-Semitic, a totally inaccurate argument that conflates Israel as a sovereign political state with the Jewish faith and Jewish people around the world. In fact, allowing an ethno-nationalist state to speak on behalf of all Jewish people invites the exact type of stereotyping and anti-Semitism that Marcus claims to oppose. Boycotting Israeli products produced on stolen Palestinian land or that fuel Israeli police and military brutality provides a path to slow or stop further oppression. Sanctions from the international community aimed at changing Israel’s behavior towards transparency and respect for Palestinian human rights are possible only if political leaders have the courage to stand up for basic human decency and morality. Most importantly, like the divestment movement to end Apartheid in South Africa in the ’70s and ’80s, the Palestinian movement aims to increase awareness about the human impact of our everyday choices, influence public opinion on Palestine and build solidarity for Palestinian people. We must speak out against injustice, especially that enacted by our alumni.
Right-wing extremists like Marcus are a threat to both BDS activism and our civil rights as students. We are ashamed that Marcus is a Williams alum. In this violent political moment, we must rise up together and fight his nomination with all that we’ve got. Call Senator Elizabeth Warren’s office at 617-565-3170 or Senator Ed Markey’s office at 617-565-8519, and let them know that as a student in Massachusetts, you strongly oppose the confirmation of Kenneth Marcus. And if you are interested in resisting repression of campus activism, discussing these topics or standing for justice in Palestine, come to our SJP meetings on Thursday nights at 7 p.m. in the environmental center, or email any of us to grab a meal and learn more.
Hattie Schapiro ’18.5 is from Hastings on Hudson, N.Y. and lives in Prospect. Eliza Klein ’19 is from Cambridge, Mass. and lives in Prospect. Abel Romero ’19 is from Belen, N.M. and lives in Lehman.