Israel lobby’s Kenneth Marcus resigns as Trump’s civil rights enforcer

Kenneth Marcus, a career Israel lobbyist and the Trump administration’s top civil rights enforcer at the US Department of Education, has announced his resignation.

A man stands in front of a flag

Kenneth Marcus (US Department of Education)

Over the two years since his appointment, Marcus inspired Israel lobby groups to file complaints to the Office for Civil Rights under Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

The complaints typically claim that universities have failed to protect Jewish students by not cracking down on Palestine solidarity activism.

This strategy was pioneered by Marcus himself before he was picked to lead the US government office and allowed to adjudicate them himself.

To this end, Marcus gave the Zionist Organization of America special treatment in reopening a complaint against Rutgers University, according to evidence gathered by nine civil rights groups including Palestine Legal.

Marcus prioritized the ZOA’s complaint over more than 400 other open appeals, including nearly 80 that had been pending for longer than 10 years, according to records obtained by the civil rights groups.

In May, those groups called on the inspector general’s office at the Department of Education to investigate Marcus over violations of federal law.

Along with his personal intervention in favor of the ZOA, Marcus had announced that the US government would adopt the so-called IHRA definition of anti-Semitism.

This misleading and politically motivated definition promoted by the Israeli government and its lobby conflates criticism of Israel and Zionism with anti-Jewish bigotry.

Palestine Legal has said that Marcus’ unilateral attempts to change federal policy “may have laid the groundwork” for Donald Trump’s executive order last December which allows mere accusations of anti-Semitism against campus critics of Israel to result in lengthy inquisitions by the government.

“Over the past two years, Kenneth Marcus has not only harmed campus advocates for Palestinian rights … but has also made it harder for survivors of sexual assault to seek justice and support and harder for colleges to promote gender and racial equity and inclusion,” staff attorney Zoha Khalili of Palestine Legal stated on Friday.

“We are relieved that he will no longer be able to abuse the Office for Civil Rights, but we know we have a long road ahead to undo the damage that he and the rest of the administration have done,” Khalili added.

On Friday, the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights – an Israel advocacy group unaffiliated with Brandeis University and led by Marcus before his appointment to the Trump administration – announced Marcus’ return.

He will serve as chair of the group’s board.

A hardline opponent of Palestinian rights, Marcus was caught on video in 2016 saying that he wanted to see students criminally prosecuted for protesting Israel’s actions.

The footage was part of Al Jazeera’s undercover documentary The Lobby–USA which was never broadcast by the channel.

A leaked copy of the film was obtained and released by The Electronic Intifada.

Israel lobby courted new UC president

Meanwhile, students, faculty and civil rights activists in California may be gearing up for another fight against an Israel lobby-backed university system president.

The University of California’s governing body has selected its new president, Michael V. Drake, to oversee its 10 campuses, as well as its medical centers and laboratories.

Drake was the chancellor of the University of California at Irvine when students nonviolently protested the visit of then-Israeli ambassador Michael Oren in 2010.

The students, known as the Irvine 11, were arrested, put on trial and ultimately convicted – all with Drake’s blessing.

Drake berated the students during their protest and later apologized to Oren, as did the University of California president at the time, Mark Yudof.

University police cooperated with Orange County prosecutors to see that the students were charged and tried under California’s penal code – exposing them to the risk of prison and a criminal record merely for protesting against a government official.

All were given community service sentences.

Also on Drake’s watch, UC Irvine suspended the campus Muslim Students Union – a blatant violation of First Amendment rights – in retaliation for the protest against Oren.

Israel lobby groups have courted Drake and encouraged his allegiance to Israel for years.

Drake is listed as a “prominent” alumnus of Project Interchange, a program of the American Jewish Committee, a major Israel lobby group.

The program takes elite figures including university administrators on propaganda junkets to Israel, in an attempt to promote US-Israeli institutional partnerships and undermine calls for the boycott of Israeli universities that participate in the violation of Palestinian human rights.

Furthermore, Los Angeles-based Israel consul general David Segal took Drake on a 2012 tour of Israel to meet with academic leaders and President Shimon Peres.

Drake reportedly agreed on a “future collaboration with the Israel Institute of Technology, as well as the Tel Aviv, Beersheba and Hebrew universities.”




It's not inconceivable that this sudden resignation after only two years of mayhem in office- admittedly a lengthy tenure in the Trump administration- may have come as a consequence of a series of failures on the part of Kenneth Marcus. His strategy of vexatious litigation directed at campus activists and academic societies was rejected last week by the US Court of Appeals when they ruled against Zionist plaintiffs who had charged the American Studies Association with antisemitism. The tide is going out on this sort of cynical lawfare, and this was a good time for Marcus to jump back into his well-feathered nest at the Brandeis Center for Human Rights. Indeed, he may have departed under something of a legal cloud, neutrality in handling departmental duties counting for so little in his case that serious charges of malfeasance have been repeatedly raised.

Incidentally, no mention was made of his possible replacement. Given the nature of the administration and its reputation for fair dealing, I can think of no worthier candidate than Ambassador Mark Regev, currently between postings himself. And before someone objects that his nationality might be seen as an impediment, let me brand any such expression as the vilest form of antisemitism. As well, there's something of a tradition in key departments of the US government, of hiring loyal Israelis to set and carry out the policies of the administration- a tradition that predates the Trump presidency by several decades. No less a dignitary than the current American ambassador to Israel is himself an Israeli settler and newspaper columnist.

Finally, thanks are due to the staff at Palestine Legal and the Center for Constitutional Rights for their tremendous work on behalf of those targeted by scoundrels like Kenneth Marcus. Both these organizations are fully deserving of the support of all who share a commitment to Palestinian rights and the freedom to advocate for those rights.


Excellent comment, Tom. Well done and thanks for the details. Maybe the resignation has to do with the unravelling of the Trump administration, not least over the Covid crisis. Rats and sinking ships....What is disturbing here, of course, is the malicious work of the advocates of The New Anti-Semitism with its mad definition of anything which is not specifically pro-Israel as anti-Semitic. It's alarming how many people fall for this because of their sympathy for the victims of the Nazi genocide. There is no serious challenge to the New Anti-Semitism from the MSM, Labour has lost its mind: there is a long hard task to get the general public to understand the nature of this despicable scam.

Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).