Instead of fighting antisemitism, new Senate bill threatens free speech
Jewish Voice for Peace, 06 December 2016
On Friday, without a single Senator in the Senate Chamber, the Senate unanimously passed the Antisemitism Awareness Act.
Judging by the title, it seems a reasonable enough piece of legislation. And the Anti-Defamation League was one of its main boosters.
But let’s look closer with a short pop quiz about why the ADL is behind this bill:
A) To make it clear that actual neo-Nazis like the National Policy Institute, now in close proximity to power, are going to face real scrutiny and condemnation?
B) To help prevent more violence against synagogues and Jewish poeple, like the dozens of instances of hate crimes and vandalism documented since the election?
C) To protect the Israeli government from student protesters?
Probably the best way to figure out why the ADL supports it is to read what they’re saying themselves:
Sadly, the answer is “C.”
At a time when actual violence and bigotry against Jews is on the rise, Jewish institutions like the ADL are seizing the moment to… protect Israel from student protesters. That’s not acceptable.
We have to make sure Congressional reps hear from a more equality-focused perspective. Click here to send them a note urging them not to be fooled by the ASAA’s title. Enough pretending that defending Israeli policies is the same as fighting antisemitism. It’s time to get down to the actual business of protecting us all – especially Muslims and people of color – from hate.
I shouldn’t be shocked, but I am. “Leading” Jewish institutions have made it clear to they care more about defending Israel’s racist policies than the real slog of fighting antisemitism. Student activists — Jewish, Palestinian, Muslim, Black, documented, white, and otherwise — pose no threat to Jews. The only threat they pose is to the culture of silence around Israeli apartheid.
Attempts to silence human rights activists are always appalling. But in this time of crisis, when actual antisemitism is seeping from our political discourse and into our streets? That is truly disgusting. As Jews and allies we have an outsized voice on this one. Please, click here now and help fight this Orwellian legislation in the House.
And here’s another example: Rep. Keith Ellison is running to become Chair of the DNC. As a 501(c)(3), JVP takes no position on any election, but I will say this: I’ve met Rep. Ellison, and he’s a good and honorable man, utterly devoted to fighting antisemitism and all forms of racism. But he’s also dared to offer modest criticisms of Israeli policy, always condemning hatred at the same time.
For that, he’s been railroaded and smeared by far-right Islamophobic front groups. And here again, the ADL is carrying water for these hatemongers by lending their name and their weight to the attacks against him.
The ADL’s support for the “Antisemitism Awareness Act” and their attacks on Keith Ellison are both proof that their commitment to fighting hatred is an empty shirt. They’re not interested in really taking on antisemitism and islamophobia. They’re only interested in shilling for Israeli apartheid.
But their attacks get listened to, because Congress thinks they speak for the whole Jewish community. Show that they don’t — click here to email your Representative.
If “leading” Jewish organizations want to place their loyalty to shameful Israeli policies above the urgent fight against islamophobia and antisemitism, we’re going to have to step up.
Our Muslim brothers and sisters have made it quite clear that the fight against islamophobia and antisemitism go hand-in-hand. But the ADL isn’t stepping up to the plate — they’re too busy condemning students who dare to criticise Israeli apartheid.
That leaves space for JVP. We can be the Jewish organization that takes on our fair share of that work — the hard but vital work of fighting antisemitism and Islamophobia, wherever it exists.
Jewish Voice for Peace
(Here is a statement from Palestine Legal, and one from the Friends Committee on National Legislation.)
Further context and commentary:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 1, 2016
Contact: Naomi Dann| firstname.lastname@example.org | 845-377-5745
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.
For further information, see:
Jewish Voice for Peace’s Rabbi Alissa Wise’s “Reflections on antisemitism in the Trump Era” (November 2016).
Jewish Voice for Peace’s Rebecca Vilkomerson “Anti-Semitism for the sake of Israel in the age of Trump” in The Hill (November 2016)
Jewish Voice for Peace’s Academic Advisory Council’s petition to the State Department regarding their definition of antisemitism (May 2015).
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education: “State Department’s Anti-Semitism Definition Would Likely Violate First Amendment on Public Campuses” (May 2015).
Los Angeles Times editorial board: “How far should UC go with an anti-Semitism policy?” (July 2015).
Palestine Legal’s Frequently Asked Questions Brief on the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism.