Dec 05,2016 – JORDAN TIMES – James J. Zogby
This week, without debate or an actual vote, the US Senate stealthily passed a disturbing and dangerous piece of legislation introduced by senators Tim Scott (R-SC) and Bob Casey (D-PA).
Called “The Anti-Semitism Awareness Act of 2016” (AAA), the Scott-Casey bill requires the Department of Education (DOE) to apply the Department of State’s (DOS) definition of anti-Semitism in evaluating complaints of discrimination on US campuses.
The DOS definition of and guidelines on anti-Semitism were designed to help US officials monitor anti-Semitism abroad.
They were not intended to be applied to police speech on college campuses in the US.
In developing its definition and guidance, DOS adopted language used by the European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC): “Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred towards Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed towards Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, towards Jewish community institutions and religious institutions.”
This description of anti-Semitism is both correct and instructive, as are several examples of contemporary anti-Semitism mentioned in the DOS guidance, including, “accusing Jews, as a people, of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, the state of Israel, or even for acts committed by non-Jews”; or “making mendacious, dehumanising, demonising, or stereotypical allegations about Jews — or the power of Jews — as a collective”.
These and other examples cited in the guidance are objectively anti-Semitic and patently wrong.
Where the DOS guidance goes “off the rails” is when it tries to expand the definition to include “anti-Semitism relative to Israel”, citing, as examples, speeches that demonise or delegitimisee Israel or that apply a double standard to Israel.
The example given for applying a “double standard for Israel” is “requiring… behaviour [of Israel] not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation”.
With this expansion of the definition of anti-Semitism, the guidance becomes both subjective and open to dangerous abuse by those who would use it to silence criticism of Israel.
This language is so vague and open to interpretation that when the University of California Board of Regents was being pressed to apply the DOS guidance to California campuses, the lead author of the EUMC definition of anti-Semitism objected, pointing out the dangers this would present to free speech, saying that “enshrining such a definition on a college campus is an ill-advised idea that will make matters worse, and not only for Jewish students; it would also damage the university as a whole”.
In short remarks introducing their bill, the two senators presented it as an effort to protect Jewish students from anti-Semitic harassment.
They told stories of pro-Israel Jewish students living in fear on their campuses. Interestingly, however, when the DOE’s civil rights unit investigated reports of widespread anti-Semitism creating a hostile environment on specific campuses, the DOE teams found the charges largely baseless.
If the bill is dangerous and even unnecessary, then why did Scott and Casey do it?
And why did they rush to pass it without debate or discussion?
Reading the “fact sheet” Scott and Casey attached to their legislation reveals the AAA’s sinister political intent, which is to silence campus student movements and activities that are critical of Israel, in particular the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction movement (BDS).
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