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New anti-Semitism legislation may stifle campus activism for Palestinian rights

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Increasingly, students on American campuses perceive advocating for justice in Palestine as a moral imperative. The steady growth of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian freedom has been met by a wave legislation aimed at punishing or suppressing our 1st amendment rights to free speech and silencing student activism. The latest of these bills is the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, introduced yesterday by U.S. Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Tim Scott (R-SC), which redefines anti-Semitism to include criticism of Israel.

Ostensibly, according to Senators Casey and Scott, the purpose of the legislation is to  “ensure the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) has the necessary statutory tools at their disposal to investigate anti-Jewish incidents”, implying previous investigations by the DOE, which failed to substantiate accusations of anti-Semitism, lacked sufficient tools to criminalize activism critical of Israel on campus.

Jewish Voice for Peace says the bill would “codify a controversial State Department definition of anti-Semitism that broadly defines criticism of the state of Israel as anti-Semitic.” And Kenneth Stern, the American Jewish Committee’s specialist on anti-Semitism and one of the drafters of the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism, thinks “official adoption of the State Department’s definition would do more harm than good.” He doesn’t think the definition should be used as a speech code for university students and rejected that proposal in an op-ed in the Jewish Journal last year:

“… official adoption of the State Department’s definition would do more harm than good. I say this sadly, as the lead author of the somewhat more detailed European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia’s (EUMC) “working definition on anti-Semitism,” upon which the State Department definition is based, and as a strong advocate of State’s use of the definition in its global work.

The EUMC definition was crafted as a tool for data collectors in European countries to identify what to include and exclude from their reports about anti-Semitism, and to have a common frame of reference so that data might be compared across borders. …

But to enshrine 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.

(JVP), press release: Instead of fighting anti-Semitism, new Senate bill threatens free speech

Instead of fighting anti-Semitism, new Senate bill threatens free speech

Fast-tracked “Anti-Semitism Awareness Act” designed to condemn criticism of Israel

December 1, 2016 – The United States Senate is due to consider the “Anti-Semitism Awareness Act,” a bill that, rather than fight anti-Semitism as it purports to do, will enable a crackdown against activism for Palestinian human rights on college campuses. Introduced and fast-tracked this week by Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Tim Scott (R-SC), the bill would codify a controversial State Department definition of anti-Semitism that broadly defines criticism of the state of Israel as anti-Semitic.

The bill is supported by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Jewish Federations of North America, the Anti-Defamation League, and the Simon Wiesenthal Center. “Given the silence of most of those organizations on the appointment of Bannon, an actual white supremacist anti-Semite to a position of power in the White House, and their poor track records of Islamophobia, it is outrageous that they are pushing through this legislation targeted at student activism for Palestinian human rights,” said Tallie Ben Daniel, academic program manager of Jewish Voice for Peace. “Instead of fighting the anti-Semitism entering the White House, this bill will go after 19-year-old students carrying protest signs against human rights abuses. This is not how to fight anti-Semitism, this is a recipe for restricting civil liberties like the right to criticize a government for its policies.”

The legislation would codify a problematic definition of anti-Semitism that right-wing Israel advocates have been trying for years to implement on college campuses in order to police student criticism of Israeli policy. The State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism includes vague wording regarding “demonizing” the state of Israel that can and has been interpreted to stifle legitimate criticism of Israel’s human rights abuses and discriminatory policies. Civil rights groups, free speech advocates and news outlets including the Los Angeles Times editorial board have raised free speech concerns about the implementation of this definition. Kenneth Stern, the lead author of the European Monitoring Centre’s definition upon which the state department definition is based, stated that to use this definition on college campuses would “do more harm than good.”

“We must be vigilant to fight against the intensified racism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism that have been unleashed by Trump’s campaign and the threat of racist, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant policies promised by his incoming administration. It is more essential than ever that our lawmakers and Jewish communal leaders insist that fighting anti-Semitism go hand in hand with fighting racism and Islamophobia, not reinforce them with misguided legislation designed to defend Israeli policies, not Jews.” said Rabbi Alissa Wise, deputy director of Jewish Voice for Peace.

Liz Jackson, civil rights attorney with Palestine Legal and cooperating counsel with the Center for Constitutional Rights: “As Trump calls for jailing flag burners, every lawmaker must stand up to protect cherished First Amendment freedoms to criticize the government. That includes the right of college students to criticize the U.S. and foreign governments like Israel. Regardless of one’s views on Palestine-Israel, we should all be alarmed at this attempt to pile on top of Trump’s attacks on free speech rights. It is plainly unconstitutional for Congress, the Department of Education, a state legislature, or any public school to punish campus speech critical of Israel.

The Anti-Semitism Awareness Act merits full consideration and a public debate.

Annie Robbins

Annie Robbins is a mom, a human rights activist, and a ceramic artist. She lives in the SF bay area and likes to garden. Follow her on Twitter @anniefofani

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26 Responses

  1. Kay24 on December 1, 2016, 4:01 pm

    It is frightening to realize that in our nation where freedom of speech is part of our constitution, our leaders allow these zionists to interfere in our policies, and try to influence colleges (by who knows what means) to stifle the efforts of passionate activists, who simply want to stop an occupation and the human rights violations, by boycotting the occupier. How easily they boycotted other rogue nations.

  2. annie on December 1, 2016, 4:31 pm

    cumulatively, i wonder how much money our states and federal courts, public officials, legislators and their staffs, have spent on these way-too-numerous-to-mention efforts to serve israel’s interests. we’ve already got laws and policies in place to protect students and citizens in schools and public institutions from bigotry as well laws in place to prosecute incidence of hate crimes and racism. but these israel related/anti semitism legislations, how much are they costing us and what has all that money produced in terms of results? anything so far?

  3. rhkroell on December 1, 2016, 6:15 pm

    If the history of modern German literature can be said to begin “on a day in 1743 when a 14-year-old Talmudic student named [Moses] Mendelssohn entered the city through the gate reserved for Jews and cattle” (THE PITY OF IT ALL: A PORTRAIT OF THE GERMAN-JEWISH EPOCH, Elon, Amos, New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2002, p. 4), then the history of the new Christian Anglo-Saxonism in the U.S. may at some future date be ironically identified by the introduction of the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act by the U.S. Congress on Nov. 30, 2016.

  4. oldgeezer on December 1, 2016, 8:43 pm

    I am wondering if it is the EUMC working definition of antisemitism. I read somewhere (perhaps at mw) from some poster that it isn’t. That it is a definition created by the ZOA (or AJC? Something like that) which was merely hosted at the EUMC site to make it available for comment.

    That doesn’t go to the heart of whether it is a good definition but it certainly impacts on how it should be presented.

    Anyway this won’t fly in any state which has even a modest semblance of free speech. Zionists hate free speech as morality and facts go against them. When things go wrong as a result of this they will claim they had nothing to do with it and they were victims more than anyone else.

    • punterweger on December 2, 2016, 5:39 pm

      The EUMC definition is a little more detailed, but that organization has now been replaced by the EUs Fundamental Rights Agency, which has disavowed the definition and removed it from its website over the objections of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

  5. dx on December 2, 2016, 1:02 am

    In a way, if efforts continue to try to stifle speech about Israeli illegal activity, human rights violations, and oppression of the Palestinians, maybe it will force the issue into our court system and bring attention to it. The US is the primary sponsor and protector of Israel–including its abuse of Palestinians. The more publicity this receives in the US, particularly if the reasons why people are speaking out against Israeli policies are brought to light–well, I think the blatant unfairness of how Israelis treat Palestinians will be harder to ignore. Frankly, that this is coming up in the Dept. of Education is all the better. The news loves a school problem! And especially a federal school rule–just look at the bathroom stuff!

    By the way, I agree with Annie Robbins–it is a colossal waste of money. But this is how our system is set up–the courts are the arbiters. For instance, I am sick of the ranting about who gets to go into what bathroom. With all our other serious problems, who cares about where someone relives themselves? This is just like so many of the “issues” people get up in arms about–like little more than manufactured boogeymen to keep the general population distracted while the oligarchy that runs our country gets to have its way.

    However, this could help people pay attention to what the US is doing in Israel/Palestine. Especially if it becomes a high profile federal case that involves multiple states or something.

  6. AddictionMyth on December 2, 2016, 9:19 am

    In fact, this is how the holocaust started: “Researching my book, I looked into what actually happened in the Weimar Republic. I found that, contrary to what most people think, Weimar Germany did have hate-speech laws, and they were applied quite frequently. The assertion that Nazi propaganda played a significant role in mobilizing anti-Jewish sentiment is, of course, irrefutable. But to claim that the Holocaust could have been prevented if only anti-Semitic speech and Nazi propaganda had been banned has little basis in reality.”

    • Keith on December 2, 2016, 12:04 pm

      ADDICTIONMYTH- “In fact, this is how the holocaust started….”

      This is an important point which needs to be emphasized. It is not merely a case of laws against speech being ineffective, but that they are usually counterproductive. What better way to make these folks feel like victims than to attack them? What better way to cause them to increase their commitment than to create a sense of defensive solidarity? This is why I have such a problem with these anti-Trump rallies. To make the point, I provide the last half of the Flemming Rose quote which followed your quote. Then a quote by John Stauber on how this tactic proved counterproductive so far. Recommend the entire Stauber article.

      “Leading Nazis such as Joseph Goebbels, Theodor Fritsch, and Julius Streicher were all prosecuted for anti-Semitic speech. Streicher served two prison sentences. Rather than deterring the Nazis and countering anti-Semitism, the many court cases served as effective public-relations machinery, affording Streicher the kind of attention he would never have found in a climate of a free and open debate. In the years from 1923 to 1933, Der Stürmer [Streicher’s newspaper] was either confiscated or editors taken to court on no fewer than thirty-six occasions. The more charges Streicher faced, the greater became the admiration of his supporters. The courts became an important platform for Streicher’s campaign against the Jews. In the words of a present-day civil-rights campaigner, pre-Hitler Germany had laws very much like the anti-hate laws of today, and they were enforced with some vigor. As history so painfully testifies, this type of legislation proved ineffectual on the one occasion when there was a real argument for it.” (Flemming Rose)

      “The massive, continuing protests against President Trump, #NotMyPresident, are not a movement and will only benefit Trump. They are an emotional tactic devoid of strategy, and one that has made Trump stronger and stronger since it was first unleashed during the Republican primaries at the beginning of 2016.” (John Stauber)

      • Mooser on December 2, 2016, 8:52 pm

        Well, things, conditions, were just a tad different in Post WW1 and Pre WW2 Germany than they are in the US of 2016. But not so much that it’s worth arguing about.

  7. maz on December 2, 2016, 11:35 am

    Because it is in the article, what evidence is there to say that Bannon is a “white supremacist?” Is there some article I can read on Breitbart where it says that white people are better than non-white people, that white people should not intermarry or that whites should be given rights that non-whites should not have?

    • Mooser on December 2, 2016, 1:01 pm

      “maz” you are with the program!
      Define anti-Semitism up, and define racism down.

      • Steve Grover on December 2, 2016, 2:07 pm

        Mooser has posted here over 30,000 times. He has never (not even once) admitted that the possibility exists that Israel haters can also be Jew haters. He is first in line to post a comment defending an Israel hating Jew hater.

      • echinococcus on December 2, 2016, 6:15 pm


        It’s all well and good to provide comic relief in the persona of “Grover”, to lighten up our difficult days in this here valley of tears, and many thanks. You may, however, give your sockpuppet a minimum of logical thought to make him understandable.

      • Mooser on December 2, 2016, 7:59 pm

        “You may, however, give your sockpuppet a minimum of logical thought to make him understandable.”

        I’d be happy just to make him sound sober! Or at least, undamaged. But as soon as I sign in as “Steve Grover” a terrible change comes over me

      • eljay on December 2, 2016, 8:37 pm

        || Steve Grover: Maz,
        Mooser has posted here over 30,000 times. He has never (not even once) admitted that the possibility exists that Israel haters can also be Jew haters. … ||

        Some people who hate Israel also hate Jews. But every single person who supports…
        – Jewish supremacism in/and a religion-supremacist “Jewish State”; and
        – the “right” of Jews to do unto others acts of injustice and immorality they would not have others do unto them,
        …is a hateful and immoral Zio-supremacist hypocrite.

      • Mooser on December 3, 2016, 11:53 am

        “|Some people who hate Israel also hate Jews.”

        Oy only too true. And so obvious, I would nave thought Zionism might take it into account.

        Hey, but when there’s 2 billion of you, who gives a rip who hates you!

    • Maghlawatan on December 2, 2016, 2:43 pm

      Bannon took over Breitbart in a coup and hired people like the Twink for Trump who spewed out the most vile misogyny and anti semitism. Bannon never signed his name to anything .

  8. Steve Grover on December 2, 2016, 12:05 pm

    I guess they’ll have to go through their “struggle” without the anti-Semitism.

    • Mooser on December 2, 2016, 1:14 pm

      “North”, not a word from you, please!
      I told you, I drink heavily from Thanksgiving until the New Year. A man is not responsible for the things he mutters in his cups.

    • zaid on December 4, 2016, 8:48 am

      I guess we’ll have to go through with our struggle despite being called “antisemites”.

  9. genesto on December 2, 2016, 12:43 pm

    I think you fight this by demanding the bill include criminalizing anti Muslim speech. That ought to put it to rest.

    • echinococcus on December 2, 2016, 2:12 pm


      Sure, free speech is always intolerable. An abomination to be nipped in the bud.

  10. HarryLaw on December 2, 2016, 12:43 pm

    The EU’s definition of anti-semitsm has not been adopted, “the Jewish Telegraphic Agency yesterday cited remarks by FRA [EU’s fundamental rights agency] spokesperson Blanca Tapia, who stated that the agency’s staff “are not aware of any official definition [of anti-Semitism],” that the document had “never” been viewed “as a valid definition” by the FRA and that “the agency does not need to develop its own definition of anti-Semitism in order to research these issues.”

    It seems the penny has dropped even for groups like Honest Reporting, which have confessed that the “disappearance and disavowal of the definition” by the FRA does somewhat undermine “the validity” of a petition they had only recently launched, calling for the media to adopt the definition.

    Yet the definition was long ago discredited, with those doing serious anti-racism work at the FRA clear it was not fit for purpose. That was what a senior FRA official told me for an article I published in The Electronic Intifada in September 2012”.

  11. punterweger on December 2, 2016, 5:35 pm

    I’m glad Kenneth Stern is against enshrining his definition, but mystified as to why it’s OK for the US State Department to continue using it. Zionist lobbies in EU countries often use the EUMC provenance to lend credence to their defamatory accusation of anti-semitism. Of course, they omit to say that the EUMCs successor body, the “Fundamental Rights Agency” disavowed the definition and removed it from its website over the objections of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

  12. Maghlawatan on December 2, 2016, 8:22 pm

    One of the worries heading into the Trump presidency is how the clown may abuse the security/paranoia setup created by St Obama and the neoliberal angels in order to deal with his political enemies.

    Similarly, think of all the effort and ingenuity that has gone into Jewish suppression of palestinian rights, from simple torture all the way up to an attempt to redefine the laws of war. And consider how in the future the whole gruesome architecture will be used to deprive Jews of rights. Cos what is good for the goose is good for the gander. Don’t ask for Hillel if you run Shammai, as a refusal may offend .

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