A bipartisan piece of Congressional legislation that lays out a clear definition of anti-Semitism as it relates to anti-Israel activity on college campuses was introduced on May 23.
The bill, sponsored by Reps. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), Doug Collins (R-Ga.) and Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), officially adopts the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism and allows the Department of Education to enforce that definition on college campuses under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which “prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin,” per the text of the bill.
The State Department’s website defines anti-Semitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
The website also includes examples of anti-Semitism couched as anti-Zionism, including comparing Israel to the Nazis, subjecting Israel or Israelis to classic anti-Semitic blood libels, applying double standards to Israel and denying Israel’s right to exist.
According to The Jewish Week, Congress’ adoption of this definition “would make it easier for the Department of Education to identify cases of anti-Semitic activity and for the Department of Justice to take legal action against the accused perpetrators.”
“The evidence is clear,” Deutch told The Jewish Week, “that the Department of Education does not recognize the existence of anti-Semitism on campus, even when it’s obvious.”
Supporters of the bill lauded it as an important step toward combating anti-Semitic harassment of Jewish students on college campuses.
“While most incidents of anti-Semitism on campus are unrelated to anti-Israel activity, the Departments of Education and Justice should have the authority to investigate instances in which anti-Israel activity crosses the line to targeted, unlawful, discriminatory intimidation and harassment of Jewish students,” Anti-Defamation League (ADL) CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement.
“The Departments of Education and Justice should have the authority to investigate instances in which anti-Israel activity crosses the line.” — ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt
In a separate May 23 post on its website, the ADL cited an 89 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents on college campuses from 2016 to 2017, and that 54 percent of religiously motivated hate crimes in the U.S. were perpetrated against Jews in 2016. As such, the ADL argued, the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act is necessary.
“Enactment of the legislation will help ensure that OCR [Office for Civil Rights] investigations of future complaints — as well as training and technical assistance for OCR Regional Office professionals — will be informed by a definition of anti-Semitism that includes all current manifestations.”
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean and director of Global Social Action Agenda for the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) also issued a statement that read, in part, “The prevalence of anti-Semitism in the United States, particularly within academic institutions, has risen at an alarming rate. The successful passage of the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act will give the Department of Education important clarity and guidance to redress anti-Semitic attacks on campus and send a clear message to perpetrators that they will be held accountable for their hate. With this clear definition available to authorities, an unequivocal message will be delivered that anti-Semitic incidents will not be tolerated.”
Opponents of the bill, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), argue that it infringes upon freedom of speech.
“The overbroad definition of anti-Semitism in this bill risks incorrectly equating constitutionally protected criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism, making it likely that free speech will be chilled on campuses,” the ACLU wrote in a letter to Congress.
A bill similar to the current Anti-Semitism Awareness Act was passed by the Senate in 2016 but not by the House.