Expanding Definition of Anti-Semitism on College Campuses

    The US House Judiciary Committee heard testimony about increased anti-Semitism on US college campuses, as lawmakers considered advancing a 2016 bill that would require the Department of Education to adopt the State Department’s working definition of anti-Semitism, according to the Times of Israel.
    The Anti-Semitism Awareness Act (ASAA) would require federally funded education programs to employ the State Department’s standards in assessing whether civil rights laws have been violated when dealing with hate crimes.
    There is controversy over the legislation, which stems from its provisions regarding Israel. The ASAA would ban the Department of Education from “claiming Israel for all inter-religious or political tensions” and “applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.”
    Opponents of the legislation argue the clauses on Israel would infringe free speech on campus. “It is undeniable that some anti-Israel sentiment is fueled by hostility toward Jews,” Suzanne Nossel, executive director of PEN America said in her testimony Tuesday. “But to declare, ipso facto, that any speech that blames Israel for regional tensions or subjects Israel to a higher standard of behavior constitutes anti-Semitism risks chilling a wide range of speech.”
    While Nossel admitted that some who hold Israel to a “higher standard behavior by virtue of its character as a Jewish state that aims to embody religious values and moral standards to which other nations do not hold themselves,” bear “some anti-Semitic taint,” she argued that existing hate crimes laws were enough to protect against this.
    But other speakers at the hearing said Jewish students were being subjected to increased harassment and federal protections have failed them.
    Johnathan Greenblatt, who heads the Anti-Defamation League, said his organization has tracked a substantial spike in anti-Semitic incidents on campuses — a total of 118 in the first three quarters of 2017 — and yet many of these incidents “would not meet the criteria to be categorized as a hate crime.”
    He pointed to a recent incident at Princeton University in which a Jewish student was berated over Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, while the university newspaper published a cartoon of Alan Dershowitz that Greenblatt said “invoked a time-worn and ant-Semitic trope of the bloodthirsty Jew.”
    The Birmingham Jewish Federation monitors anti-Semitic incidents on college campuses and, while there are not many in Alabama that we need to be concerned about, the national trend that Greenblatt addresses is concerning to us. We consistently check in with Jewish college students throughout the state and have helped address difficult situations in which Jewish students have felt uneasy, specifically at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
    If this bill is adopted, it would help further protect Jewish students on campus at a time when they often feel threatened or unsafe.
    Most of the above is taken directly from the Times Of Israel website. 


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