Senior Democratic Staffer: 'We Do Not Care About Anti-Semitism'

Committee overseeing Ken Marcus nomination ambivalent to anti-Israel groups attacking Trump nominee

Sen. Patty Murray
Sen. Patty Murray / Getty Images
January 17, 2018

A senior policy adviser to Democratic senator Patty Murray (Wash.) said her office in the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions does "not care about anti-Semitism," according to two people who attended the meeting.

The HELP committee is currently weighing the nomination of Ken Marcus as assistant secretary for civil rights at the Department of Education. Marcus has been the target of an aggressive campaign waged by leading anti-Israel groups seeking to derail his nomination. Marcus has worked to combat the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement on college campuses and is the founder of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, a pro-Israel group.

During a meeting on November 28 with Sarah N. Stern, a former colleague of Marcus and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth, a senior adviser to Murray on the HELP committee told Stern the committee does not "care about anti-Semitism in this office."

"We don't care about anti-Semitism in this office," Murray's senior adviser said. "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," he said.

Stern's aide Jennifer Dekel confirmed the comments and said she was taking notes during the meeting.

Stern first addressed the comments revealing that Democratic members are not concerned about the anti-Semitic elements of the campaign against Marcus in an editorial for the Jewish News Service, published Tuesday. She provided the full quote to the Washington Free Beacon, saying she found the remarks "particularly egregious."

Eli Zupnick, a spokesman for Sen. Murray, questioned the accuracy of the remarks attributed to the senior adviser, saying, "This is not an accurate quote and certainly doesn't reflect the position of the office."

The senior adviser did not immediately respond to request for comment.

The campaign against Marcus is being led by numerous anti-Israel groups, including the Arab American Institute, led by James Zogby who has referred to Israelis as "Nazis"; the National Students for Justice in Palestine, which has members who have openly celebrated murderers of Jews; and Palestine Legal, which has defended professors who have posted anti-Semitic comments online.

In her editorial, Stern details Marcus's record on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and as the assistant secretary of education for civil rights under the George W. Bush administration, where he expressed commitment to "aggressively prosecute harassment" against students of all religions.

Stern also noted under Marcus, the Brandeis Center sent several letters to universities "decrying racism against Muslims and African Americans on their campuses." For instance, he wrote to the president of San Diego University in November 2015 denouncing an attack against a Muslim student, saying, "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 condemned the incident, in which a female Muslim student was grabbed by her headscarf and called a terrorist, as a "hate crime."

"We are appalled by this act of hate, and we urge you to take immediate action by condemning this incident and announcing that hate crimes of any kind will not be tolerated at SDSU," Marcus wrote.

"Does this sound like the sentiment of a racist or an Islamophobe?" Stern asked.

"Yet while I was recently talking about Marcus with a senior policy adviser to the Democratic ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, the adviser interrupted me with the response, 'We do not care about anti-Semitism in this office,'" she wrote.

Sen. Murray serves as the ranking member of the HELP committee.

Palestine Legal, one of the anti-Israel groups targeting Marcus, has used the ranking member in its campaign against his nomination. The group, which is a leading activist for BDS, praised Murray for "grilling" Marcus during his confirmation hearing.

Marcus was scheduled for a committee markup last week, but it was delayed for scheduling reasons. He was originally nominated in late October, but his nomination was shelved into the new year.