On Monday, Senator Mike Lee, R-Utah, used his time at Judge Merrick Garland’s confirmation hearing to be attorney general. request if Garland believes that Kristen Clarke, President Joe Biden’s candidate for the head of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, is an anti-Semite. Garland, who had testified earlier about how his grandparents came to America after fleeing anti-Semitism in the Russian Empire, flatly denied the accusations, responding: “I’m a pretty good judge of what is an anti-Semite, and I don’t. think she is an anti-Semite. “
Lee’s questions are just the most public face of efforts by some – sadly, including a minority within the Jewish community – to distort Clarke’s 20-plus-year record as a civil rights champion entirely. based on a decision she made when she was 19. second year university student.
Here are the facts: Clarke herself has never been accused of making anti-Semitic comments. Not one. Complete stop. She has spent her career advocating for the rights of Jews and all of our country’s most marginalized and at-risk people during her time at the Department of Justice, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the New York Attorney General’s Office. as director of the Civil Rights Office or as Chairman of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights under Law. And her nomination is supported by a number of prominent Jewish organizations and individuals – including myself and the organization that I lead, the National Council of Jewish Women.
The criticism Clarke faces is only due to the fact that in 1994, as the head of the 19-year-old Harvard Black Students Association, the group she was leading accepted the Wellesley College professor’s offer, Tony Martin, to speak on campus to refute the racist screed “The Bell Curve”. “By 1993, Martin found himself embroiled in several academic disputes over his promotion of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, which led him to self-publish a book on the controversy that many at his university called anti-Semitic. speech was controversial and Clarke defended the decision to host Martin.
Perhaps not surprisingly, a black woman would face dishonest attacks about her supposed motives and closer scrutiny from a college event she attended in 1994.
Clarke admitted giving him a platform was a mistake.
Those who now cry scandal at her appointment – probably while also decrying “the culture of cancellation” – willfully ignore Clarke’s unequivocal denunciation of anti-Semitism, the fact that she has never made such statements before. – even and his professional record, which shows that such an assertion on his motives could not be further from the truth.
However, it might be worth noting that Clarke would not only be the first black woman confirmed to head the Civil Rights Division, but the first woman confirmed to lead it since its inception in 1957.
It is perhaps not surprising that a black woman would face dishonest attacks about her supposed motives and heightened scrutiny from a college event she attended in 1994. Black women in our country receive too often disproportionate criticism and negative reactions for the same actions or behaviors that would be overlooked by white and male colleagues.
College is often the first time in our lives that we experience great diversity, and it’s a time when students learn to navigate where their identity fits into the context of a more community. large. In my decade of working with students, I have never met a single student who did or said things perfectly while on campus. On the contrary, time and again I have seen students who needed to unlearn things about themselves or others – to understand that their actions had hurt someone unintentionally – to become who they wanted to be. in the world.
We encourage students to apologize and learn from their mistakes; in Jewish tradition we refer to this as engaging in Teshuvah.
University is the first time that many young people will be held responsible solely for their mistakes or missteps – and what is more important than the mistakes they make is how they react once they have recognized the damage and who they choose to be in order to move forward. We encourage students to apologize and learn from their mistakes; in Jewish tradition we refer to this as engaging in Teshuvah.
There is no doubt that Clarke’s record since college shows that she is a champion of civil rights and human rights – including the fight against anti-Semitism. In fact, she brings to the position a wider range of civil rights experience than any candidate before her.
During her time in the New York attorney general’s office, she launched a religious rights initiative and worked to secure accommodations for employees in several workplaces to observe the Sabbath. As head of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, she has established partnerships with Jews and Jewish organizations. She spoke out against hatred towards our community and other religious minorities. Under Clarke, the Lawyers Committee’s Stop Hate Project worked to tackle hate crimes and white supremacy – including prosecuting the owner of the Nazi sympathy platform The Daily Stormer and working to destroy or cripple several neo-Nazi and anti-Semitic websites (including DavidDuke.com).
It is not a woman’s job to ask the boss if he thinks she is anti-Semitic.
Undermining a woman whose entire distinguished career has been fighting hatred and injustice is incompatible with Jewish values.
There has been a disappointing silence from many Jewish organizations that claim to be committed to civil rights and yet have not publicly supported Clarke. I understand that not all organizations endorse federal candidates – although it is within their 501 (c) 3 rights to do so – but as Jews we know that to be silent is to be complicit. Too many Jewish leaders who have deep connections with Clarke, as well as knowledge of his values and work, have said little or nothing.
Perhaps we are all so used to condoning unfair attacks on black women in this country that no one sees it as their responsibility to speak out. We cannot allow this resignation and apathy to prevail.
To create real change, we all need to speak out when we see wrongdoing, even and especially when it comes from our own community’s participation in unfair attacks on our behalf. The debilitation of a woman whose distinguished career has been fighting hatred and injustice – and who is more than qualified to lead the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice – is incompatible with the Jewish values. The Jewish community must speak out.
Kristen Clarke represents the best of us all. She is compassionate, intelligent, consistent; she admits her few mistakes when she makes them and she learns from them. If you were wrongly attacked or the victim of a hate crime, Clarke would be the first person on your side, and she wouldn’t give up until justice was served. We owe him the same.