Kenneth Marcus, high-ranking US education official, returning to Jewish civil rights agency

Kenneth Marcus in 2017. (Facebook) 

Philissa Cramer

(JTA) — A top-ranking official at the U.S. Education Department is returning to the organization he started eight years ago to combat anti-Semitism at colleges and universities.

Kenneth Marcus will become chairman of the board of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law after two years as the education department’s assistant secretary for civil rights.

Marcus announced his departure on Twitter on Thursday:

Marcus was confirmed in 2018 after a bruising process in which not a single Democrat supported him.

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In his role at the department, Marcus built on his work fighting the boycott Israel movement and campus anti-Semitism through the Brandeis Center. Supporters and colleagues, such as the Zionist Organization of America and Elan Carr, the Trump administration’s envoy to fight anti-Semitism, have praised Marcus’ labeling of Israel criticism as anti-Semitism. Critics have said the conflation is an infraction on free speech.

Marcus notably reopened a case involving Rutgers University and a forum there in 2011 that Jewish students said involved harassment. He widely employed the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism, which includes some types of anti-Israel activity, to investigate claims of discrimination under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. The definition includes “applying double standards by requiring of [Israel] a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation” and holding Jews collectively responsible for Israel’s actions.

Alyza Lewin, who took over for him at the Brandeis Center, said Marcus’ return is welcome at a time when online anti-Semitic activity is on the rise, especially with universities moving online because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The services and guidance provided by the Brandeis Center have become crucially important to students on the front lines battling this scourge,” she said in a statement. “There is no one more knowledgeable and experienced in this field than Kenneth Marcus, and we are thrilled that the Brandeis Center will once again be the vehicle for him to share his expertise.”

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