Kenneth Marcus has announced that he is resigning as assistant secretary for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education.
Given Marcus’s long history of working to silence student speech supportive of Palestinian rights, Defending Rights & Dissent opposed his nomination to the post. As head of the Brandeis Center, Marcus specifically advocated for using a distorted view of federal civil rights law in order to target and penalize supporters of Palestinian rights. These theories had been repeatedly rejected by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR), which is why Marcus’s nomination was so concerning.
True to our concerns, as head of the OCR Marcus took a highly irregular step of personally letting the Zionist Organization of America know that he was reopening a complaint they had brought years ago that had been dismissed. The initial complaint was filed in 2011 and argued a student event featuring the stories of Holocaust and Nakba (the explusion of Palestinian refugees during the founding of the state of Israel) surviors constituted anti-semetic discrimination. As a result of this movie, Defending Rights & Dissent joined civil rights groups in calling for an inspector general investigation into Marcus’s actions.
While Kenneth Marcus is out, there is still concern that the OCR could be improperly abused to attack student speech. In December, 2019, Donald Trump issued an executive order instructing federal agencies to consider adopting a controversial definition of anti-Semitism that conflates criticism of Israel with anti-Semetic discrimination.
While Defending Rights & Dissent supports robust enforcement of our nation’s civil rights laws, we oppose the misuse of those laws to silence political speech about Palestinian rights or Israeli policy, as Marcus did.