Defending Kenneth Marcus ’88: Questioning SJP and supporting Marcus’ appointment

Recently, The Williams Record published an op-ed about an esteemed alum that conveyed, almost in its entirety, factually inaccurate accusations (“Standing with SJP: Opposing Kenneth Marcus ’88,” Jan. 24, 2018). Hattie Schapiro ’18.5, Eliza Klein ’19 and Abel Romero ’19 urged the College community to stand with Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), an international student activism organization, and oppose Kenneth Marcus ’88, nominee for the position of assistant secretary of civil rights in the U.S. Department of Education. In doing so, the authors claimed that Marcus is the founder of a “right-wing, pro-Israel lobbying organization” and has engaged in “bullying and intimidating students.”

Marcus founded the Louis D. Brandeis Center, a non-partisan institution – a fact easily verified by its 501(c)(3) status. The Center engages in research, education and advocacy. Its mission is to “advance the civil and human rights of the Jewish people and promote justice for all.” The Center has partnered with academicians around the world to study rapidly rising anti-Semitism. Perhaps the most famous of its studies is the “Anti-Semitism Report,” a collaboration with Trinity College showing that already by 2014, 54 percent of Jewish students on U.S. college campuses had experienced or witnessed anti-Semitism during the previous semester. The report served as a watershed, raising awareness of this growing problem.

The Brandeis Center also engages in legal advocacy. In 2016, for example, SJP and anti-Israel groups at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) blockaded Jewish students in an auditorium and then chased one undergraduate who attempted to leave, forcing her to hide in a kitchen guarded by a UCI staff member. The Brandeis Center represented the student. UCI found SJP culpable and instructed it to host an educational program reflecting its commitment to ending such types of harassment.

Marcus thus does not engage in, but rather opposes, the “bullying and harassment of students.” Throughout his career, Marcus has fought for the rights of women, the disabled and minority groups including African Americans, Hispanics and Asians. Marcus served as general deputy assistant secretary of housing and urban development for fair housing and equal opportunity and as staff director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, during which he was delegated the authority of assistant secretary of education for the Office for Civil Rights (2003-2004). In these positions, Marcus heightened the enforcement of regulations against lending discrimination and racially segregated school activities and bolstered Title IX grievance procedures. He developed programs to combat the misdiagnosis of racial and ethnic minorities in special education, and he issued a guidance that extended civil rights protections to Muslims, Sikhs and Jews. As president and general counsel of the Brandeis Center, Marcus has continued to speak out against discrimination aimed at religious minorities, including Muslims and other groups.

Of these activities, the op-ed’s authors write that Marcus has an “extensive record” of “opposing civil rights.” The Atlantic, however, reported that the George W. Bush “administration started taking a stronger approach to enforcing civil rights laws” under Marcus’ leadership (“The Office for Civil Rights’ Volatile Power, Mar. 13, 2017”). In addition, at Marcus’ nomination hearing, Senator Tim Kaine applauded Marcus’ advocacy on behalf of a Virginia Tech student threatened by a white supremacist.

The op-ed’s authors ask that the College community stand with SJP. But before doing so, consider what standing with SJP means. SJP-affiliated groups have disrupted at least 92 Jewish events on college campuses, incited violence against Israelis and Zionists and attacked Jewish students at UCI and other colleges.

Instead of advocating against all quasi-governmental, nongovernmental, governmental and international organizations that have a hand in extending the suffering of the Palestinian people, these groups target just one entity — the Jewish state. In doing so, they not only work against peace and the wellbeing of all peoples in the region, but they also fuel the fire of growing anti-Semitism in the United States.

The College is privileged to count Kenneth Marcus among its alumni.  My friendship with Ken has enriched my life in many ways. During our college days, I discovered in him a tolerance of other viewpoints that I have always endeavored to emulate. I have watched closely as Ken has countered rising intolerance through the Brandeis Center, not by shutting down speech, but by providing factual information and promoting thoughtful dialogue. I have felt the pride of his accomplishments, such as when a former student of Ken’s approached us at a restaurant last summer and recounted how much he had inspired her.

Schapiro, Klein and Romero’s op-ed, with its gross factual inaccuracies, is a mark against the College. We should not view our association with the College as a free ticket to higher repute;  rather, we should earn that esteem by being ever more diligent in our professional and social responsibilities so that we may become a model of integrity for others to follow.

Naomi Friedman ’87 was a chemistry major and is from Ashville, N.C.

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