Reporting a Civil Rights Discrimination Complaint

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) issued policy guidance in October 2010 clarifying that Jews are protected from discrimination and harassment under Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) will enforce the protection of this civil right.

Russlyn Ali, the U.S. Department of Education’s Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, wrote in a letter dated October 26, 2010, that Jewish students would join others who merit protection under the law.

“Anti-Semitic harassment can trigger responsibilities under Title VI,” he wrote. “While Title VI does not cover discrimination based solely on religion, groups [such as Jews] that face discrimination on the basis of actual or perceived shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics may not be denied protection under Title VI on the ground that they also share a common faith.”

The OCR specifies that school districts and institutions of higher education “may violate these civil rights statutes and the Department’s implementing regulations when peer harassment based on race, color, national origin, sex, or disability is sufficiently serious that it creates a hostile environment and such harassment is encouraged, tolerated, not adequately addressed, or ignored by school employees[1].”

You should file a report with OCR if:

  • You are physically or verbally abused;
  • If any anti-Semitic incidents occur on campus (e.g., painting of swastikas);
  • Students, faculty or visitors criticize Israel using anti-Jewish stereotypes;
  • You feel that a class, lecture or campus activities create a hostile environment for Jewish or pro-Israel students
  • Israel or its leaders are demonized (e.g., equating Israel with Nazi German), Israel is singled out for condemnation, or Israel’s right to exist is questioned in a manner which creates a hostile environment for Jewish students.

The Louis d. Brandeis Center has recently published a short guide regarding the law against campus anti-semitism under Title VI:

“Under the Marcus Policy initiated in 2004, Jewish students are now protected under Title VI. Although Title VI does not use the word “religion,” Jewish students are protected from discrimination based on their ethnic or ancestral background. This is because Jewish students are targeted not only based on their actual religious practices or on tenets of the Jewish religion, but also for their perceived ethnic, racial or ancestral identity.”

How do I Know if an Incident is Anti-Semitic?

Some of the circumstances used by the US Department of State to discern the difference between anti-Israel sentiment and anti-Semitism include:

  • Demonizing Israel with symbols and images associated with classic anti-Semitism, comparing Israeli policy to that of the Nazis, and blaming Israel for all inter-religious or political tension.
  • Holding Israel to a standard of behavior not expected of any other nation.
  • Delegitimizing Israel, denying the Jewish people their right of self-determination, rejecting Israel’s right to exist.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and the U.S. Department of State have adapted the EUMC Working Definition of Anti-Semitism, which includes:

  • Calling for the killing or harming of Jews in the name of radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.
  • Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, or inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.
  • Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nation.
  • Making stereotypical allegations about Jews and the power of Jews as collective such as the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy.
  • Holding Jews collectively responsible for the actions of the State of Israel.

These are guidelines, however, and it remains important to remember that legitimate criticism of the State of Israel does not violate Title VI and should not be considered anti-Semitism.

What if someone is just speaking and no physical activity occurs?

Under recent federal guidance, harassment may include verbal acts, name-calling, graphic and written statements, use of cell phones or internet, and other conduct that may be physically threatening, harmful, or humiliating. Harassment does NOT have to include intent to harm, be directed at a specific target, or involve repeated incidents.
However, harassment creates a hostile environment only when the offending conduct is sufficiently severe or pervasive to interfere with or limit a student’s ability to participate in or benefit from services, activities, or opportunities offered by a school. Many forms of offensive speech, including hate speech, are protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In addition, some forms of academic speech are protected by the doctrine of
academic freedom.

What if the University tries to retaliate?

The university may not retaliate against any person because he or she opposed an unlawful educational practice, or policy, or made charges, testified, or participated in any complaint action under Title VI. The university is prohibited from retaliating against a student, parent, teacher, coach, or other individual that complains formally or informally in an OCR investigation or proceeding. Retaliation may include intimidating, threatening, coercing, or in any way discriminating against the individual. Furthermore, student-on-student retaliation is also prohibited. That is to say, students now have additional protections against universities that permit other students to retaliate against them for filing civil rights complaints.


Remedial steps in dealing with anti-Semitic incidents could include “publicly labeling the incidents as anti-Semitic,” and educating teachers and students on the history and dangers of anti-Semitism and how to recognize it when it occurs.

In addition, the letter clarified that schools must “take prompt and effective steps reasonably calculated to end the harassment and prevent its recurrence.”

If there is a potential criminal violation, then you should contact the FBI.

You may use this form to file a complaint or contact us at