US President Donald Trump’s nominee for a senior civil rights post is proving a controversial choice, according to a report by Haaretz.
Kenneth Marcus, picked by Trump to be assistant secretary for Civil Rights at the Department of Education, is accused by Palestine advocacy groups of conflating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism, and thus stifling free speech and legitimate political activism.
An open letter to that effect has been signed by more than 200 professors, organised by Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), which supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.
According to JVP, Marcus equates “the movement to boycott Israel with anti-Semitism, casting free speech, criticism and nonviolent resistance as violations of civil rights”. His appointment, the group adds, “will have catastrophic effects on free speech and civil rights on campuses”.
Pro-Israel groups, meanwhile, are celebrating, with one activist, Tammi Ross-Benjamin, director of the AMCHA Initiative, hailing Marcus as “a real champion for Jewish students and Jewish students’ civil rights on campus”.
Howard Winant, a distinguished professor of sociology at University of California Santa Barbara, told Haaretz: “The effort to crackdown and repress criticism of Israel creates a climate where it’s dangerous” to speak out against Israel’s policies.
Daniel Boyarin, Taubman Professor of Talmudic Culture at University of California Berkeley, told
Haaretz that if Marcus is confirmed, “people like me could be targeted…and this would have a chilling effect on discourse about Israel on campus”.
Boyarin, a BDS and JVP supporter, added: “His whole concern with civil rights is to have political activity that he perceives or defines as anti-Israel deemed anti-Semitism, and therefore incorporated in civil rights anti-hate speech restrictions.”
Yonah Lieberman, a spokesman for the grassroots anti-occupation group IfNotNow, told Haaretz that the organisation opposes Marcus’ appointment to the Education Department.
“He is the architect of a ridiculous legal strategy to silence opposition to Israeli policies based on accusations of anti-Semitism,” Lieberman said, adding: “That limits free speech.”