Antisemitism bill is a cynical attempt to silence human rights on college campuses


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 23, 2018
Contact: Sonya E Meyerson-Knox | sonya@jvp.org | 929-290-0317
Rabbi Joseph Berman | joseph@jvp.org | 202-656-5361

Instead of fighting anti-Semitism, re-introduced legislation is a cynical attempt to silence human rights activists on college campuses

Jewish Voice for Peace calls on Members of Congress to oppose the “Silencing Students Act”

May 24, 2018: From a presidential campaign filled with bigotry and hate, including anti-Semitism, to a White House that welcomes bigots and anti-Semites, under the Trump administration we have witnessed a rise in blatant anti-Semitic incidents across the country, including the White Nationalist rally in Charlottesville and the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. In response, Jewish Voice for Peace has redoubled its efforts to combat the rise of anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry, including the Stop Bannon coalition with other faith-based, social justice, and community organizations.

With the re-introduction of the “Anti-Semitism Awareness Act,” in Congress, however, Jewish Voice for Peace is deeply concerned that this terrifying rise in anti-Semitism is being cynically exploited to target advocates of Palestinian human rights on college campuses. The bill dangerously diverts attention from real anti-Semitism and instead targets student activists. Jewish Voice for Peace urges Members of Congress to oppose the re-introduced Anti-Semitism Awareness Act.

“From white nationalists in the White House to anti-Semitic school shootings, we are witnessing an alarming rise in anti-Semitism, as well as other forms of bigotry and violence. Rather than address anti-Semitism, this legislation seeks to silence advocacy for Palestinian human rights on college campuses,” said Rabbi Joseph Berman, Jewish Voice for Peace Manager of Government Affairs. “This isn’t an ‘anti-Semitism awareness act’ – it’s the Silencing Students Act.”

After failing to become law in the 114th Congress, the “Anti-Semitism Awareness Act” was reintroduced in Congress on May 23rd. The American Civil Liberties Union warned yesterday that this legislation “risks chilling constitutionally protected speech by incorrectly equating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism.”

The Silencing Students Act would require the Department of Education to apply the Department of State’s previous working definition of anti-Semitism to evaluate complaints of discrimination on college campuses. The Silencing Students Act intentionally conflates anti-Semitism with legitimate criticism of Israel and advocacy for Palestinian human rights. Criticism of the Israeli government is not inherently anti-Semitic, just as criticism of the United States government is not equivalent to bigotry against Americans.

“Advocating for Palestinian rights is not antisemitic,” said Rabbi Alissa Wise, Deputy Director of Jewish Voice for Peace. “Congress can and should take real action to address White Nationalist hate and violence – instead this legislation attacks human rights activists, including Jewish students acting upon their deepest Jewish values.”

Jewish Voice for Peace urges Members of Congress to oppose this latest attempt at the Silencing Students Act.

Rabbi Joseph Berman is available to speak with the media.

Background on the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act

Opposition to the original bill was widespread, with The Los Angeles Times editorial board arguing that college campuses “can protect students from harassment without adopting an overly broad and constitutionally dubious definition of anti-Semitism.” Kenneth Stern, the lead author of the European Monitoring Centre’s definition, upon which the State Department definition is based, wrote a letter to Congress stating that the bill was “both unconstitutional and unwise” and that enshrining the definition for use on campuses would “actually harm Jewish students and have a toxic effect on the academy.”

Adoption of the Silencing Students Act would further the dangerous policy trend shown by the Trump Administration in suppressing activism for Palestinian human rights and criticism of the State of Israel. The Anti-Defamation League, who supports the legislation, has been explicit that the true target of the legislation is what they term “anti-Israel activity on campus.” The legislation would also give Kenneth Marcus – nominated to the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Education – the tools to silence students who advocate for Palestinian rights. If the legislation were to pass and Marcus is confirmed by the Senate, it is likely he would use this definition to create pressure on university administrators to investigate, defund, and/or discipline students, professors, or academic programs who are in any way critical of the Israeli government – creating a chilling effect on legitimate and constitutionally protected speech.

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Jewish Voice for Peace is a national, grassroots organization inspired by Jewish tradition to work for a just and lasting peace according to principles of human rights, equality, and international law for all the people of Israel and Palestine. JVP has over 200,000 online supporters, over 70 chapters, a youth wing, a Rabbinic Council, an Artist Council, an Academic Advisory Council, and an Advisory Board made up of leading U.S. intellectuals and artists.



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