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Lankford Urges Department of Education to Take Concrete Steps to Counter Antisemitism on College Campuses

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – Senators James Lankford (R-OK) and Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and Representatives Kathy Manning (D-NC) and Chris Smith (R-NJ), co-chairs of the Senate and House bipartisan Task Forces for Combatting Antisemitism, led their colleagues in a bipartisan letter urging the US Department of Education to take additional steps to counter antisemitism and protect Jewish students on college campuses. The letter also requests that the Department of Education brief members of Congress on the Department’s progress implementing the US National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism by September 30, 2023.

“As members of Congress who are committed to countering antisemitism, we are deeply concerned about the rise of antisemitic incidents at universities and college campuses. The US Department of Education has a key role to play in the federal government’s efforts to counter antisemitism,” the Members wrote.

The letter expresses support for the Education Department’s Antisemitism Awareness Campaign and other commitments in the US National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism, issued in May 2023 and specifies several strategies to combat antisemitism in schools. It also encourages the Department to continue taking the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism into consideration as it investigates incidents of discrimination.

Lankford co-founded the Senate Bipartisan Task Force for Combating Anti-Semitism with Rosen in 2019.

Read the full letter here or below.

Dear Secretary Cardona:

As members of Congress who are committed to countering antisemitism, we are deeply concerned about the rise of antisemitic incidents at universities and college campuses. The US Department of Education has a key role to play in the federal government’s efforts to counter antisemitism. We welcome the Department’s ongoing commitment to take several steps outlined in the US National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism, including launching an Antisemitism Awareness Campaign, and issuing a recent Dear Colleague Letter circulated to schools on May 25, 2023, clearly stating that “a school violates Title VI when it fails to take adequate steps to address discriminatory harassment, such as antisemitic harassment.” Additionally, the Department’s Antisemitism Awareness Campaign lists several important actions the Department will take, including continued data collection and increased technical assistance for both schools and community organizations.

We strongly encourage the Department to continue taking the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism into consideration as it investigates individual incidents of anti-Jewish discrimination and enforces federal civil rights law. In addition, we reiterate our support for the Administration’s proposed action to issue regulations pursuant to Executive Order 13899 on Combating Anti-Semitism to provide the strongest level of protections for Jewish students.

According to the ADL, antisemitic incidents on college campuses increased by 41 percent from 2021 to 2022. Recent campus surveys also confirm that many Jewish students face discrimination or a hostile environment on campus. The 2021 ADL-Hillel Campus Antisemitism Survey found that nearly one third of Jewish students personally experienced antisemitism directed at them on campus or by a member of the campus community. A 2022 survey also found that 54 percent of Jewish students feel that they pay a social cost for supporting the existence of Israel as a Jewish state. We hope that you agree that these findings are alarming and unacceptable. Jewish students, like all students, deserve equal rights to an education free from discrimination and harassment because of their identity.

As you know, the overall number of complaints received by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has risen from approximately 10,000 cases in 2019 to more than 19,000 cases last year. While we welcome the Department’s successful resolution of a recent case at the University of Vermont, we encourage the Department to continue to swiftly investigate other pending cases and to continue to enforce federal civil rights laws against antisemitism in all forms. We also encourage the Department to undertake concerted efforts to encourage the reporting of antisemitic incidents; despite the increase in complaints to OCR, anti-Jewish incidents remain woefully underreported.

That is why we respectfully request that the Department provide written responses to the following questions:

  1. How is the Department working to swiftly resolve a backlog of pending discrimination complaints, and specifically those involving antisemitism?
  2. What additional resources does the Department require to successfully resolve the pending complaints in a timely manner? 
  3. How will the Department help schools, including those that have experienced an increase in antisemitism, improve their processes and procedures for reporting antisemitic incidents on college campuses?
  4. How does the Department plan to highlight best practices to prevent and address antisemitism on campus and ensure students, educators, and administrators are aware of available resources? 
  5. What technical assistance will the Department provide to schools regarding Title VI, its application to Jewish students and its coverage of all forms of antisemitic discrimination?

Keeping the priorities and questions outlined above in mind, we urge the Department to brief Congress on the Department’s plan to implement key actions outlined in the US National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism by September 30, 2023.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter. We look forward to your response and continuing to work with you to help combat antisemitism and other forms of discrimination in higher education.

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