In-Depth: Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) reintroduced this bill from the 115th Congress to combat anti-Semitism:
“In 2016, I first introduced the bipartisan Anti-Semitism Awareness Act and look forward to joining my colleagues in reintroducing it this Congress. It is crucial to have clear and concise language defining anti-Semitism in the event that violence and hatred occurs. The unfortunate rise in these incidents across the country must be met with swift and unwavering condemnation. We must stand together against racism and bigotry by ensuring that justice is served against those who seek to divide us.”
In an interview with FOX News, Sen. Scott added that clarifying the definition of “anti-Semitism” would “allow the [Trump] administration to rein in that kind of discriminatory behavior” while allowing individuals to “still assemble, still have conversations, [and] still even disagree.” Scott added, “You don’t have to actually like folks, you don’t have to actually speak in an effective manner, but we do have to understand where the boundaries are on that kind of conversation on college campuses, especially when it leads to incidents.”
Original cosponsor Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) adds:
"The rise in incidents of religious discrimination and religiously-motivated hate crimes around the world is completely unacceptable. We have to not only condemn it, but work to stop it. This legislation is aimed at a particularly troubling manifestation of the growing problem of discrimination against those of Jewish faith or Jewish ancestry. I’m proud to work with Senator Scott on this bill, which aims to combat anti-Semitism and help investigate illegal discrimination on college campuses.”
The Anti-Defamation League supports this bill. Its CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt, says:
“Today, the federal government does not have all of the tools it needs to investigate anti-Semitic incidents on campus, as it does for most other forms of discrimination. At a time of rising anti-Semitic incidents, we welcome the Senate’s introduction of the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, which provides important guidance for federal anti-discrimination investigations involving anti-Semitism. This will help the federal government determine whether an anti-Semitic or anti-Israel incident crosses the line from protected free expression into harassing, unlawful or discriminatory conduct, because investigations would be informed by the current, widely accepted definition of anti-Semitism. We applaud Senators Scott's and Casey's leadership in sponsoring this important legislation, which will help protect Jewish students from discrimination on campus, while not infringing on the free speech of all students.”
Defending Rights & Dissent, an organization that strengthens participatory democracy by “protecting the right to political expression,” argues that this bill is aimed at silencing supporters of Palestinian human rights. It argues that this bill would force the Dept. of Education “to adopt a definition of anti-semitism that conflates criticism of Israel with anti-semitism. This would mean student activism for Palestinian rights could be treated as a violation of federal civil rights law.” Defending Rights and Democracy continues:
“Anti-semitism is deplorable. And people should be aware of it. But this bill isn’t about combating anti-semitism, it’s about perverting federal civil rights law to silence supporters of Palestinian civil rights.”
FIRE, an organization that seeks to defend and sustain the individual rights of students and faculty members at America’s colleges and universities, adds that incorporating the State Dept.’s definition of anti-Semitism threatens First Amendment-protected speech:
“The State Department definition is problematically vague — it targets ‘a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews’— and broad enough to allow for the investigation and punishment of core political speech, such as the criticism of Israeli policy. Synchronizing the Department of Education’s review of alleged Title VI violations with this unbounded definition places campus speech rights at risk.”
CAIR contends that expanding Title VI’s scope to include the IHRA’s definition of anti-Semitism would “dangerously politicize anti-Semitism by equating it with legitimate criticism of Israeli policy.” CAIR’s National Executive Director, Nihad Awad, adds:
“By equating criticism of the governmental policies of the state of Israel with the horrific and pervasive pain of anti-Semitism, the falsely-titled Anti-Semitism Awareness Act of 2019 politicizes and trivializes the very real discrimination faced by thousands of American Jews. We have seen a spike in anti-Semitic hate crimes and vandalism recently and a decisive policy solution is needed to combat this disturbing trend and root out bigotry. Criminalizing free speech that targets the abusive policies of a foreign government is not that solution.”
Kenneth Stern, the State Dept. definition’s lead author, has also opposed its use for this legislation. In a 2016 New York Times article, he wrote, “The definition was intended for data collectors writing reports about anti-Semitism in Europe. It was never supposed to curtail speech on campus.”
This bill has six bipartisan Senate cosponsors, including four Democrats and two Republicans, in the 116th Congress. In the 115th Congress, this bill had five bipartisan Senate cosponsors, including three Democrats and two Republicans, and didn’t see committee action. A House bill in the 115th Congress, sponsored by Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) with the support of 50 bipartisan cosponsors, including 35 Republicans and 15 Democrats, also failed to see committee action. In the 114th Congress, this bill passed the Senate, but the House didn’t vote on it due to time constraints.
This bill has the support of the Jewish Federations of North America, Anti-Defamation League, CUFI, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, StandWithUs, ACT for America, American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and the Brandeis Center for Human Rights.
Of Note: The Anti-Defamation League reports that there were 204 reported incidents of anti-Semitic events on campuses in 2017 — nearly double the number of incidents (108) reported in 2016. Multiple student protests and student governments have pushed for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions measures. These measures are viewed by many pro-Israel individuals and groups as anti-Semitic. In early 2019, the University of North Carolina-Asheville invited Women's March co-president Tamika Mallory to speak during the school's Martin Luther King, Jr. Week. Mallory has endorsed Minister Louis Farrakhan, who has called Adolf Hitler a “very great man” and compared Jewish people to “termites.”
Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act states that “discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin” is prohibited.
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / tzahiV)