Democratic obstruction in the Senate has left the Department of Education without leadership in its office of civil rights at a time when anti-Semitism has risen by 94 percent in U.S. schools.
Kenneth Marcus, the Trump administration's nominee to be assistant secretary for civil rights, has been stalled since Oct. 30. Marcus is the founder and president of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, a nonprofit dedicated to advancing civil rights of the Jewish people.
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Marcus was not confirmed out of the Senate HELP committee until last month on a party line vote and now awaits confirmation before the entire body.
While the permanent position to lead the civil rights division remains vacant, news broke this week that anti-Semitism is surging throughout America, particularly in K-12 schools.
The Anti-Defamation League released its audit of 2017, finding anti-Semitic incidents overall increased by 57 percent, with a total of 1,986 incidents.
"Anti-Semitic incidents took place in a wide variety of locations, including places of business, private homes, public areas such as parks and streets, Jewish institutions, schools, and colleges/universities," the ADL said. "Although the largest number of incidents typically occur in public areas, in 2017 K-12 schools surpassed public areas as the locations with the most anti-Semitic incidents, at 457 incidents being reported in K-12 schools and 455 in public areas."
This represented a "dramatic increase" of 94 percent in K-12 schools and an 89 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents on college and university campuses with 204 events.
Incidents in K-12 schools included hundreds of reports of vandalism, including swastikas "drawn or scratched into school facilities or drawn on Jewish students’ notebooks."
"In many cases, the swastikas in 2017 were accompanied by phrases like ‘Hitler was not wrong,' ‘Heil Hitler,' ‘Kill all Jews,' and ‘No Jews,'" the report said.
Anti-Israel groups are opposing Marcus's nomination for his work at the Brandeis Center combatting the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) of Israel movement.
Palestine Legal, a leading activist for BDS that has drafted resolutions for BDS groups on college campuses brought before student governments, has opposed Marcus, as well as the Arab American Institute, which is led by James Zogby, who has referred to Israelis as "Nazis."
Palestine Legal condemned the 12-11 vote to confirm Marcus in the HELP committee on Jan. 18, calling Marcus "anti-civil rights, anti-free speech," and "dangerous."
Marcus has years of experience working at the United States Commission on Civil Rights and in the Departments of Education and Housing and Urban Development. While at OCR he defended the rights of Arab Muslims, Jewish Americans, and Sikhs to practice their religion free from harassment.
Democrats and Republicans alike have praised Marcus for being "eminently qualified" for the position and for "taking a stronger approach to enforcing civil-rights laws" during the Bush administration.
It is unclear when a vote for Marcus will reach the full Senate floor. Democrats have used procedural hurdles in the Senate to block Trump nominees by forcing the Republican majority to spend 30 hours of floor time on each nominee—unless there is unanimous consent.
Sen. Patty Murray (D., Wash.), the ranking member of the HELP committee, has been blamed for leading the obstruction effort to block nominees. A senior Democratic staffer to Murray on the HELP committee, which oversaw the first steps of Marcus's nomination, said, "We don't care about anti-Semitism in this office."
Murray's office did not respond to request for comment on whether it is important to have the assistant secretary of civil rights position permanently filled at a time when anti-Semitism in schools is on the rise by 94 percent.
Aside from Marcus, the Department of Education still has no permanent deputy secretary for education or general counsel. Only three officials have been confirmed to the department since Betsy DeVos became secretary.