Kenneth Marcus, the nominee for assistant secretary for civil rights under the Department of Education, is set for a committee hearing before the Senate HELP Committee Thursday amidst an aggressive attack campaign against his nomination by leading anti-Israel groups.
Marcus has received bipartisan support and is described as “eminently qualified” for the position, with years of experience working at the United States Commission on Civil Rights and in the Departments of Education and Housing and Urban Development.
Marcus is also the president and founder of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, a nonprofit dedicated to advancing civil rights of the Jewish people, a leading fighter against the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) of Israel movement.
Anti-Israel groups have seized on Marcus’s nomination, flooding Senate offices with phone calls from a social media campaign attacking Marcus on every issue from campus sexual assault to being “anti-free speech.”
His confirmation has been stalled since Marcus was nominated on Oct. 30. A committee hearing was held on Dec. 5, but the full Senate did not vote on Marcus’s nomination, as it was held over into the new year. Now, the HELP Committee will hold a markup on Marcus’s nomination Thursday.
“In my time working with Ken, I found him to be a brilliant, compassionate, and zealous defender of the civil rights and civil liberties of all Americans,” said Jennifer Braceras, a political analyst and former commissioner of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights who worked with Marcus. “I am astonished that anyone would accuse him of being anti-free speech.”
“This is a guy who has a long record of vigorously defending the First Amendment, who is passionately opposed to censorship of any kind, and who has probably thought more carefully about the fine line between free expression and racial intimidation than anyone else in this field,” she said.
Marcus served as staff director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights from 2004 to 2008. In September 2004, he sent a “Dear Colleague” letter to schools and colleges receiving federal assistance expressing OCR’s commitment to “aggressively prosecute harassment” against students of all religions.
“[W]e must remain particularly attentive to the claims of students who may be targeted for harassment based on their membership in groups that exhibit both ethnic and religious characteristics, such as Arab Muslims, Jewish Americans, and Sikhs,” Marcus wrote.
Anti-Israel groups, such as Palestine Legal, the Arab American Institute, and Students for Justice in Palestine, are now denigrating Marcus as “anti-free speech” and “anti-civil rights.”
“Marcus has a long record of targeting First Amendment-protected speech and scholarship of people with whom he disagrees,” writes Palestine Legal in its campaign to oppose Marcus.
Palestine Legal is a leading activist for BDS and has drafted boycott, divestment, and sanction resolutions for BDS groups on college campuses brought before student governments.
The head of Palestine Legal, Dima Khalidi, has decried “influential” groups and individuals who want to ensure that the United States “continues to unconditionally support Israel.”
The Arab American Institute is also involved in the campaign to derail Marcus’s nomination. The group, led by James Zogby, who has referred to Israelis as “Nazis,” has painted Marcus as anti-LGBTQ. The group claims he “weakened” Title IX protections and that he “chilled free speech on campus” by opposing BDS.
Marcus’s Brandeis Center says the BDS movement is “antithetical to principles of academic freedom and discourages freedom of speech,” in a statement condemning the campaign to punish companies that do business with Israel.
“We recognize and accept that individuals and groups may have legitimate criticism of Israeli policies,” the Brandeis Center said. “Criticism becomes anti-Semitism, however, when it demonizes Israel or its leaders, denies Israel the right to defend its citizens, or seeks to denigrate Israel’s right to exist.”
Zogby is a leading anti-Israel apologist for terrorism, who has accused Israel of committing a “Holocaust” against the Palestinians and compared Israelis to “Nazis.” He also has called congressmen “Israel firsters,” an anti-Semitic trope that implies dual loyalty to the Jewish state.
Jewish Voice for Peace is claiming Marcus has a “long record of harassing students and faculty that he disagrees with.” At a conference last year the anti-Zionist group featured Rasmea Odeh, who was convicted for terrorist bombings in Tel Aviv in 1969 that killed two Israeli students. She received a standing ovation for blasting “Zionists” and President Trump. Odeh was deported in September after lying about her terrorist conviction on her visa application.
The National Students for Justice in Palestine demonstrated against Marcus during his first committee hearing in December, with members putting tape over their mouths that read, “Palestine.”
SJP is a leading anti-Israel campus organization that increasingly is engaging in radical tactics. Student members include Samer Alhato at Saint Xavier University, who claims to be a financial supporter of the Palestinian terror group Hamas and ran a workshop at the SJP conference last year.
Another SJP organizer, Brant Roberts, has openly celebrated murderers of Jews, supporting the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Palestine Liberation Organization.
Members of SJP have used harassment, intimidation, and have assaulted Jewish students, including a Jewish student who was called “kike” after being hit in the face.
“Ken Marcus will vigorously defend the First Amendment rights of all Americans,” said Braceras. “But he will not allow racially discriminatory intimidation, vandalism, and violence take cover behind specious claims that such behavior is a form of constitutionally protected expression.”
Republicans and Democrats, alike, have praised Marcus for his experience at OCR and when he was delegated the authority of assistant secretary of education for civil rights from 2003 to 2004.
The Atlantic credited Marcus for the Bush administration “taking a stronger approach to enforcing civil-rights laws.”
Jeff Robbins, a Democrat and U.S. delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Commission in the Clinton administration, said Marcus is “eminently qualified” and was responsible for “energetically enforcing antidiscrimination measures” at OCR.
“His confirmation by the Senate would seem to be a shoo-in, but for one strange wild card,” Robbins wrote in an editorial in the Boston Herald. “An expert on anti-Semitism—he has written and lectured widely on the subject—his nomination, predictably, has been bitterly criticized by the fringe and unhinged groups who operate something of an anti-Semitism lobby.”
“Marcus’s work at the Brandeis Center has often brought him into conflict with this crowd, which has already begun to try to smear him,” Robbins continued. “Democrats in the Senate would do well not to fall for it.”