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House ed committee Republicans challenge Cardona on antisemitism regulations

“It is difficult to trust the department to investigate violations of Title VI when your own public statements suggest that you have already come to your own conclusions,” the Republicans wrote.

U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona in conversation with Rev. Al Sharpton in New York on April 12, 2023. Credit: lev radin/Shutterstock.
U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona in conversation with Rev. Al Sharpton in New York on April 12, 2023. Credit: lev radin/Shutterstock.

Republicans on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce wrote a scathing letter on Monday to U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona after his department announced that it was delaying new regulations to combat antisemitism.

“The day before Chanukah, the most visible Jewish holiday in the United States, the department announced its decision to once again punt on its responsibilities to Jewish students,” per the letter, dated Dec. 18. 

“This is particularly egregious in the face of increased anti-Jewish hatred sweeping across American schools and college campuses which deserves action from the department now, not later,” wrote the 25 members of Congress.

Former President Donald Trump issued Executive Order 13899, “Combating Antisemitism,” on Dec. 11, 2019. The order called on executive departments responsible for enforcing Title VI of the Civil Rights Act to consider the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA)’s working definition of antisemitism as their benchmark when identifying discrimination against Jews.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination “on the ground of race, color or national origin” for federally-funded programs.

That definition, which is also cited in U.S. President Joe Biden’s national strategy to combat antisemitism, includes contemporary examples, such as “drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis” and “holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.”

Drafting regulations to incorporate the Trump-era executive order has now been pushed off until December 2024, per the Education Department’s announcement.

Both Republicans and Democrats have pressed the department to make progress in enforcing Title VI actions in the wake of protests on university campuses since Hamas’s Oct. 7 attacks. In many cases, those protests have been directed against Jewish students or the Jewish community, which may constitute discrimination.

Monday’s letter, led by the committee’s chair Rep. Virginia Fox (R-N.C.) who was joined by all 24 Republicans on the committee, asks whether Cardona is taking those investigations seriously or whether he had pre-determined their outcome.

The Republicans cited a CNN interview of Cardona’s in mid-November, during which the secretary said, “Look, if an institution refuses to follow the law to protect students, we would withhold dollars.” Cardona added: “I haven’t spoken to a college leader that doesn’t want to do everything they can. Right now what we’re doing is giving them resources.” 

But it’s tough to trust Cardona and the department to investigate Title VI violations “when your own public statements suggest that you have already come to your own conclusions about the scope of the problem and have decided that alleged efforts by schools satisfies their legal obligations,” the Republicans wrote.

Despite the strong stance that Republicans on the House education committee have taken in combating campus antisemitism since the Oct. 7 attacks, Democrats have argued that Republicans undermined their position by supporting budget cuts to the Department of Education’s civil rights office, which enforces Title VI.

“You can’t have it both ways,” said Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), the committee’s ranking member, during a hearing earlier this month questioning the presidents of Harvard University, University of Pennsylvania and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 

“You can’t call for action, then hamstring the agency charged with taking that action to protect students and civil rights,” Scott said.

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