(May 25, 2018 / JNS) Jewish organizations welcomed legislation introduced by group of bipartisan lawmakers on Wednesday that seeks to codify a working definition of anti-Semitism into the American education system.
Titled the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, the bill was introduced by Reps. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Doug Collins (R-Ga.) in the House of Representatives, and Sens. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.) in the Senate. It seeks to direct the Department of Education to use the working definition of anti-Semitism that was developed by the State Department’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism office in 2010.
A similar bill was unanimously approved by the U.S. Senate in 2016.
Alyza Lewin, the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law chief operating officer and director of policy, applauded Congress for the bill, while at the same time noting the spike in anti-Semitism targeting Jewish students in recent years.
“The spike in anti-Semitic incidents in schools has forced Jewish students to face prejudice on their campuses, swastikas in their dorms and danger on their school grounds. No student should ever be singled-out or harassed due to their religious beliefs,” she said. “This bill provides the Department of Education with the guidance it needs to properly identify today’s manifestations of anti-Semitism, particularly those incidents that cross the line from protected anti-Israel expression to blatant anti-Semitic acts.”
According to the FBI’s Hate Crime Report, Jewish hate-crime victims outnumber victims of all other religious groups combined. The problem is most serious in U.S. schools. A Brandeis Center/Trinity College study found that 54 percent of Jewish college students reported experiencing or witnessing anti-Semitism in 2014. And a February ADL report found that anti-Semitic incidents in K-12 schools and on college campuses nearly doubled between 2016 and 2017.
“At a time of rising incidents of anti-Semitism, this legislation addresses a core concern of Jewish and pro-Israel students and parents: When does the expression of anti-Semitism, anti-Israel and anti-Zionist sentiments cross the line from First Amendment-protected free expression to harassing, unlawful, discriminatory conduct?” posed ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt.
“While most incidents of anti-Semitism on campus are unrelated to anti-Israel activity, the Departments of Education and Justice should have the authority to investigate instances in which anti-Israel activity crosses the line to targeted, unlawful, discriminatory intimidation and harassment of Jewish students,” he added.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the associate dean and director of the global social-action agenda for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, stated: “The successful passage of this legislation will give the Department of Education important clarity and guidance to redress anti-Semitic attacks on campus and send a clear message to perpetrators that they will be held accountable for their hate.
“With this clear definition available to authorities,” he said, “an unequivocal message will be delivered that anti-Semitic incidents will not be tolerated.”