When Mr. Marcus was nominated, human rights organizations protested his confirmation, concerned that he would use his position to further his pro-Israel cause.
Mr. Marcus has sought to use the complaint process to chill a particular political point of view, rather than address unlawful discrimination.
— Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights statement
The new head of civil rights at the Education Department has reopened a seven-year-old case brought by a Zionist group against Rutgers University, saying the Obama administration, in closing the case, ignored evidence that suggested the school allowed a hostile environment for Jewish students.
The move by Kenneth L. Marcus, the assistant secretary of education for civil rights and a longtime opponent of Palestinian rights causes, signaled a significant policy shift on civil rights enforcement — and injected federal authority in the contentious fights over Israel that have divided campuses across the country. It also put the weight of the federal government behind a definition of anti-Semitism that targets opponents of Zionism, and it explicitly defines Judaism as not only a religion but also an ethnic origin.
And it comes after the Trump administration moved the American Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, moved to cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority and announced the closing of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s office in Washington.
In a letter to the Zionist Organization of America, obtained by The New York Times, Mr. Marcus said he would vacate a 2014 decision by the Obama administration and re-examine the conservative Jewish group’s cause not as a case of religious freedom but as possible discrimination against an ethnic group.
In so doing, the Education Department embraced Judaism as an ethnicity and adopted a hotly contested definition of anti-Semitism that included “denying the Jewish people the right to self-determination” by, for example, “claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor” and “applying double standards by requiring of” Israel “a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.”
In effect, Arab-American activists say, the government is declaring the Palestinian cause anti-Semitic.