Posted by Ali Albassam on December 07, 2016 in Blog

Last week, the Senate passed a bill called the “Anti-Semitism Awareness Act” to counter rising anti-Semitism.

Sounds like a sensible bill, right?

But dig deeper, and you will find the legislation vaguely defines anti-Semitism in a way that conflates well founded criticisms of Israel’s human rights abuses and discriminatory policies with hatred.

This bill, which was presented in a manner that provided no opportunity for debate, used the State Department's working definition of anti-Semitism and applies it in domestic settings of schools and college campuses. It seeks to expand the definition to include criticism of Israel. This would threaten free speech.

Here’s why:

The definition used in the bill is a foreign policy decree that was not designed as a speech code for an American college campus.

The bill claims that it’s anti-Semitic for anyone to “demonize Israel” or subject Israel to "double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation."

By that very (vague) definition, it could be “anti-Semitic” for student activists to protest Israel’s illegal settlements and home demolitions, unlawful use of force, arbitrary arrests, and war crimes in Gaza.

The nation of Israel does not represent an entire religious community. Therefore, criticism of Israel should not equate to hatred of over 15 million Jews around the world.

By this logic, criticizing Saudi Arabia, a Muslim-majority country, for its human rights violations would constitute “Islamophobia”.

It’s no wonder why Jewish leaders like Rabbi Alissa Wise of Jewish Voice for Peace oppose this bill.

“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.”  She argued.

American colleges have a long history of being a hub for free-speech and an open, lively exchange of ideas and thought that pre-dates the very constitutional rights that this bill would undermine.

Regardless of who you are or where you stand on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, as an American, this bill should outrage you.

At the very least, this bill deserves the right to be debated. The Senate's companion bill, H.R. 6421, was submitted to the House and will likely soon go to a final vote.

Join us and urge your member of Congress to oppose HR 6421 and stand up for free speech.