Schumer Too Busy to Meet With Pro-Israel Group About Rising Anti-Semitism on Campus

Senate Democrats stonewalling Ed civil rights nominee for 6 months

Chuck Schumer / Getty Images
Chuck Schumer / Getty Images
April 23, 2018

Senator Chuck Schumer's office said the Democratic minority leader is too busy to meet with pro-Israel activists who support the nomination of Ken Marcus to lead the Department of Education's office of civil rights.

Emails obtained by the Washington Free Beacon reveal that much like Democratic senators who have stonewalled Marcus's nomination, Schumer's office has delayed meeting with members of the grassroots organization Stop BDS on Campus.

Marcus's nomination to be assistant secretary for civil rights has lingered in the Senate for six months. 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.

Marcus's nomination has been stonewalled amid reports that anti-Semitism has risen by 94 percent in U.S. schools. Last week, 51 student groups at New York University pledged to boycott Israel.

Marcus did not clear the Senate HELP committee until February, after resistance from Democrats. While weighing his nomination, a senior Democratic staffer to Sen. Patty Murray (D., Wash.) on the committee said, "We don't care about anti-Semitism in this office." Anti-Israel groups also adamantly oppose his nomination.

Naomi Friedman, the founder of Stop BDS, has attempted to meet with Schumer about the urgency of Marcus's nomination for months, to no avail.

Schumer's office pushed back against the notion the minority leader is stonewalling the Marcus nomination.
"Senator Schumer has spoken out forcefully against BDS on numerous occasions. He has said publicly, as recently as this week, that BDS is, in fact, a form of anti-Semitism," said Justin Goodman, a spokesman for Sen. Schumer. "He also carefully reviews all nominees based on their qualifications and views across a wide range of issues."

Stop BDS, which fights against the boycott, divestment, and sanctions of Israel movement, began calling Sen. Schumer's office on Dec. 21, over six weeks after Marcus was nominated. The next month, Stop BDS reached out to schedule a meeting on Jan. 26.

After hearing nothing, Friedman's mother was able to speak to Schumer at an Ohio fundraiser and asked for the contact information of the key staffer in charge of the Marcus nomination. He gave information for Nick Kutryb, the finance director of his super PAC Friends of Schumer.

Friedman did not hear from Schumer's office until weeks later, when she received a call from Mike Iannelli, a special assistant in Schumer's New York office. On Feb. 8, Iannelli promised to put the group in contact with the key staffer in charge of the nomination by the end of the week.

Iannelli called the next week to assure Friedman that Schumer "opposes BDS and anti-Semitism, and that he will arrange for a meeting with a key staffer."

Friedman never again heard from Iannelli but was able to obtain emails of other Schumer staffers the next month. A meeting was finally held with Steve Barton, Schumer's director of intergovernmental relations, on March 14.

During the meeting, Friedman and a dozen New York constituents provided Barton with personal accounts of anti-Semitism they have witnessed, how Marcus had intervened in these situations, and why they believe it is critical to confirm his nomination.

Barton emailed Friedman on March 16, thanking her for the meeting.

"I really appreciate hearing your group's concerns directly—and I hope that you all found it a useful dialogue, too," he said. "I appreciate the time and commitment that you all have put into this matter."

Barton asked for additional information Friedman had on her work against BDS and any other information related to Marcus's nomination.

"I have conveyed your concerns and arguments directly to our most senior staff and our Israel and nominations teams," Barton said. "I will also touch base with our scheduling team to discuss the feasibility of a meeting with Sen. Schumer."

More than a month later, a meeting with Schumer has yet to happen. Barton now says Schumer is too busy.

Friedman sent Barton a 20-page report documenting the rise of anti-Semitism on campus and its correlation to anti-Zionist student groups.

The report noted 99 percent of all schools with a chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine or similar anti-Israel group experienced "at least one anti-Semitic incident."

The report featured testimonies from Democratic constituents of Schumer, who urged the minority leader to move forward on Marcus's nomination to "protect the Jewish people and the civil rights of students on university campuses."

"It could be that Democrats take their Jewish constituents for granted," said Betty Berenson of Scarsdale, New York. "The Jewish community votes for Democrats at approximately 80 percent, and they could think that we are not at risk in our support for Democrat candidates. This assumption does not take into consideration that our commitment to Israel and to fighting attacks against the Jewish state, is far greater than our commitment to the Democrat party."

"You said that we must 'stand firm against the BDS movement' and recognize that it is based in anti-Semitism," Berenson told Schumer. "We are giving you the chance to act on your values."

Friedman urged Schumer to act on Marcus's nomination in a follow up email to Barton on March 26.

"While the Democratic Party may have political reasons to delay or prevent the confirmation of Trump nominees, we strongly believe that Senator Schumer would choose to leave a legacy of standing against the intensifying hatred that threatens the American-Jewish community and weakens its relationship to the Democratic Party," she said.

Friedman received no response until she sent a follow-up email on April 13, asking whether Schumer was stonewalling the Marcus nomination.

"Our [New York] activists are becoming increasingly concerned that you have not responded to our request to arrange a meeting with Senator Schumer," Friedman said in an email to Barton, Iannelli, and Kutryb. "As you likely know, conservative media has reported that the Democrats are stonewalling the Marcus nomination."

"Our own experience is beginning to confirm that claim," she said.

Friedman noted Stop BDS has been trying to meet with Schumer since late January, back when the New York Times reported Marcus was "near confirmation."

"It is hard to believe that Senator Schumer would deliberately choose to strengthen the hand of anti-Semitic groups, but at this point this is de facto what he is doing," Friedman said. "If you feel this is not his or your intent, please do let us know."

Barton replied two days later, saying it has "been a busy time in the office."

"I'm still working with our scheduling team to see if a meeting might be possible," he said. "The calendar has been pretty full lately with all that's happening in Washington, but I am continuing to raise the request/question. I'll let you know as soon as I have an update."

Schumer introduced a bill dealing with marijuana use on Friday.

Barton said he wanted to "assure" Friedman that Schumer had seen her report as well as the senior staff in charge of Marcus's nomination.

"Thank you for taking the time to carefully compile that information—it's a really great, helpful resource," he said.

"As I hoped to make clear on our call, Sen. Schumer takes BDS extremely seriously and uses every opportunity to speak out against it," Barton added. "It's certainly not his intent to bolster an anti-Semitic group—and I think his public record reflects an abiding commitment to the Jewish community in New York, America, and across the world."

Barton ended the email thanking Friedman for her patience.

Monday marks the 175th day since Marcus was nominated.