By Colleen Flaherty, InsideHigherEd—
The U.S. Senate on Thursday passed the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, which seeks to adopt the U.S. State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism so that the Education Department may consider it in investigating reports of religiously motivated campus crimes. The State Department defines anti-Semitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
The bill was proposed by Senators Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat, and Tim Scott, a South Carolina Republican, to “ensure the Education Department has the necessary statutory tools at their disposal to investigate anti-Jewish incidents,” according to a news release. The senators say the act is not meant to infringe on any individual right protected under the First Amendment, but rather to address a recent uptick in hate crimes against Jewish students. The bill is supported by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Federations of North America and the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Casey listed the following examples of anti-Semitism in his explanation of the bill:
Calling for, aiding or justifying the killing or harming of Jews
Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust
Demonizing Israel by blaming it for all interreligious or political tensions
Judge Israel by a double standard that one would not apply to any other democratic nation
The bill has attracted criticism from groups including Palestine Legal and Jewish Voice for Peace, who say the proposed definition of anti-Semitism wrongly conflates any criticism of Israel with anti-Jewish sentiments. The definition was rejected by the University of California earlier this year after similar complaints from free speech advocates, faculty and students. Kenneth Stern, who helped write the European Monitoring Center’s “working definition on anti-Semitism” on which the State Department definition is based, at that time argued that it would do “more harm than good” on college campuses.