A bipartisan bill to combat anti-Semitism was introduced last week in Congress, following statistical analysis showing that Jews are the most targeted religious group for hate crimes annually.
If enacted, the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, introduced by Reps. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., Ted Deutch, D-Fla., Doug Collins, R-Ga., and Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., would require the Department of Education to adopt the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism to determine whether certain incidents potentially violate anti-discrimination laws like Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Sens. Tim Scott, R-S.C., and Bob Casey, D-Penn., introduced a similar version in the upper chamber.
The State Department defines anti-Semitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
Examples provided by the Department include, but are not limited to, “Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion,” and “Accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, or even for acts committed by non-Jews.”
This is of particular importance as college campuses have become a hotbed for anti-Semitism via the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction, or BDS, movement.
“According to recent reports, anti-Semitic attacks on college campuses have risen sharply in recent years. Unfortunately, the Department lacks firm guidance on how to define anti-Semitism,” according to a congressional press release by the offices of the bill’s sponsors. “By codifying the definition of anti-Semitism adopted by the U.S. State Department’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, this legislation will enable the DOE to protect students from the most insidious and modern forms of anti-Semitism.”
The release added that the legislation would not infringe on First Amendment or academic freedoms. Rather, “it provides the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights with a guideline for determining whether cases that already rise to the level of actionable discrimination were motivated by anti-Jewish animus.”
According to the AMCHA Initiative, which monitors campus anti-Semitism, there have been 311 such incidents in 2018 – almost half of the number of anti-Semitic incidents on campuses last year. Such incidents in 2018 are set to outpace the number of incidents in 2017.
“There is no place for anti-Semitism or religious discrimination on our college campuses,” Rep. Roskam said in the press release. “Across the nation, we’re witnessing a significant rise in Jewish students being targeted and harassed for no reason other than their identity.”
“I’ve heard far too many stories from Jewish students of the anti-Semitism they face in schools and on college campuses every day,” Rep. Deutch said. “Jewish students, like students of any religion, should not live in fear of attacks because of their religion. They shouldn’t have to fear wearing Judaic symbols or expressing their support for Israel.”
Deutch added, “As we work to combat all forms of discrimination and hate, Congress must act to protect Jewish students on campus, and this legislation would help the Education Department stem this troubling trend.”
Groups like the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law support the bill, while groups like the American Civil Liberties Union oppose it.
“The spike in anti-Semitic incidents in schools has forced Jewish students to face prejudice on their campuses, swastikas in their dorms and danger on their school grounds,” Alyza Lewin, Chief Operating Officer of the Louis D. Brandeis Center, said. “No student should ever be singled-out or harassed due to their religious beliefs.”
The ACLU, on the other hand, slammed the bill.
“Unfortunately, the proposed bill risks chilling constitutionally protected speech by incorrectly equating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism,” executive director Anthony Romero said. “We worry that the law will lead colleges to suppress speech, especially if the Department of Education launches investigations simply because students have engaged in speech critical of Israel,” he added.
Sen. Scott said the bill is more about clarifying anti-Semitism and less about restricting speech.