(January 19, 2018 / JNS) A U.S. Senate staffer allegedly suggested that anti-Semitism is of lesser concern than discrimination against other minority groups, stating twice that “we don’t care about anti-Semitism in this office,” JNS has learned. The revelation has sparked concern among groups that work to raise American lawmakers’ awareness about anti-Semitism.
The remarks were purportedly made in a conversation that took place between Sarah Stern, the president of the pro-Israel group Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), and Jake Cornett, a senior policy adviser to U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (known as HELP).
Stern’s organization has been urging senators to support the nomination of Kenneth L. Marcus as assistant secretary of education for civil rights. Marcus’s confirmation hearing took place last month, and a vote on the nomination will be held in the coming days.
In the meeting with Cornett, at Murray’s office on Nov. 28, 2017, Stern spoke of Marcus’s work against anti-Semitism as one of the reasons that senators should support the nomination.
According to notes of the meeting that were taken at the time by Stern’s associate, Jennifer Dekel, Cornett responded, “We don’t care about anti-Semitism in this office. We care about transgenders, we care about blacks we care about Hispanics, we care about gays, we care about lesbians, we care about the disabled. We don’t care about anti-Semitism in this office.”
A spokesperson for Murray said in a statement to JNS, “In no way could a quote like this reflect the position of the HELP Committee Democrats or the office of the Ranking Member—and in fact, nothing could be further from the truth. The office takes anti-Semitism in all its forms extremely seriously and is absolutely committed to fighting back against it however it can, wherever it exists.”
The statement continued, “The staffer in the meeting absolutely denies the quote attributed to him and regrets that what he did say in the meeting two months ago could have been misunderstood and misconstrued so badly. He does not believe, and in no way intended to convey, that the office considers fighting anti-Semitism to be anything less than a critical issue and an important part of the position that Mr. Marcus has been nominated for.”
On Wednesday, a member of the senator’s staff “had a productive conversation to clarify what [Stern] took from the meeting and to make sure she understands the office’s clear position on this issue,” according to the spokesperson.
Stern, in response, told JNS, “I cannot believe that Senator Murray herself thinks anti-Semitism is not a genuine problem, or that Jewish concerns are somehow not as important as those of other groups. I am sure she will make it clear to her staff that such attitudes are unacceptable.”
Dr. Asaf Romirowsky, who has worked with Stern in Washington in his capacity as executive director of the Scholars for Peace in the Middle East nonprofit, described her as “a credible, honest professional who has worked on Capitol Hill for many years on issues of concern to the Jewish community.” Romirowsky told JNS that Stern “has always acted with the utmost integrity.”
“Sarah Stern is an eminently reliable person,” said Charles Jacobs, president of the Boston-based advocacy organization Americans for Peace and Tolerance. “And anti-Semitism is a serious and growing problem, especially on college campuses where Jewish students are not typically granted the same protections by college administrations as are other minority groups.”
The Marcus nomination has been supported by major Jewish organizations such as the American Jewish Committee and B’nai B’rith. It is opposed by pro-Palestinian organizations, including the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights and Jewish Voice for Peace.
Writing in the political affairs journal The Nation on Jan. 10, Dima Khalidi, leader of the organization “Palestine Legal,” accused Marcus of “targeting the First Amendment rights of students who are critical of Israeli policies and advocate for Palestinian rights.”
In response, supporters of Marcus point out that he and the organization he founded, the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, pressed San Diego State University (SDSU) for action when a Muslim student was attacked there several years ago.
“While our organization primarily addresses the rights of Jewish college students, we support the right of all students to be free from invidious discrimination,” Marcus wrote to the SDSU administration at the time, urging the university to “hold educational forums to discuss the serious nature of this incident and what can be done to eliminate further hate crimes against students of any identity group.”