Pass the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act (and protect the First Amendment)

This should not be a controversial piece of legislation. It doesn’t seek to ban hateful speech, just to define it.

A swastika that was spray-painted on the Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) Jewish fraternity house at University of California, Davis. Source: YouTube.
A swastika that was spray-painted on the Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) Jewish fraternity house at University of California, Davis. Source: YouTube.
David Gemunder. Credit: Courtesy.
David Gemunder
David Gemunder has served on the boards of several national organizations that combat antisemitism, including Hillel International, the Secure Community Network and the Alpha Epsilon Pi Foundation.

Eight years ago during the Obama administration, the State Department adopted a definition of anti-Semitism to be used in identifying Jew-hatred around the world. Except for in the United States. To remedy that omission, a bipartisan group of politicians in Washington just introduced the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act of 2018.

This should not be a controversial piece of legislation. All that the act does is direct that anti-Semitism, as it is manifested today, be treated comparably to racism or sexism. It certainly doesn’t seek to ban hateful speech, just to define it. Take that in for a minute: How, in this day and age, could it possibly be problematic to simply define “the oldest hatred”?

Well, there’s the rub. The State Department’s definition does not challenge “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country”; however, in a few extreme instances, it correctly equates anti-Zionism—opposition to the creation and continued existence of the State of Israel—with anti-Semitism. And that has terrified the supporters of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and their radical ilk.

Once limited to ideological zealots, anti-Zionism is now trendy, serving as a litmus test for membership in the American progressive social order. In contrast, anti-Semitism, even today, is generally perceived to be a bit gauche, except by members of the alt-right and their cronies. In more basic terms, on campuses, in most newsrooms and throughout other leftist bastions in this country, anti-Zionism is kosher; anti-Semitism ain’t. Yet.

As a result, opponents of the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act frantically claim that it will violate the First Amendment. Or “repress debate and criticism.” Or prevent people from “engaging in a robust exchange of ideas.” Translation: Left-wing extremists are perfectly content to use anti-Semitism against their opponents (once they’ve cloaked it in a mantle of “respectability”), but they’re desperately afraid of being exposed as intolerant and prejudiced. That’s the issue, in a nutshell.

Why is it so important that we adopt the State Department’s definition linking certain expressions of anti-Zionism to anti-Semitism? Because today, the two are usually indistinguishable. There have been far, far too many examples recently. Allow the bigots to highlight a few of them:

  • At Barnard College, after the passage of a BDS resolution, hundreds of students received an email with a subject line of “ISRAEL DID 9/11,” which claimed that Israel, Jews and treasonous Americans were responsible for the carnage on Sept. 11, 2001, and that the “9/11 Commission Report is a 571-Page Zionist Lie.”
  • At the Claremont Colleges, a supporter of Israel was asked by an SJP member why she was a Zionist even though she wasn’t Jewish. When a second SJP mentioned that one of the supporter’s grandparents was Jewish, the first one, citing the Nazis’ infamous racial laws, responded: “That’s enough for Nuremberg!”
  • At San Diego State University, a social-media post urged “#SDSUDivest so we can get rid of t[h]e jews.”
  • At the University of California, Berkley, graffiti in a campus bathroom stated that “Zionists should be sent to the gas chamber.”
  • At the University of California, Davis, a few days after the student government passed a resolution supporting BDS, swastikas were painted on a local Jewish fraternity house.
  • At the University of California, Los Angeles, a hateful student and employee at the UCLA Medical Center flew her flag proudly, posting “F**king Jews. GTFOH with all your Zionist bullshit. Crazy ass f**king troglodyte albino monsters of cultural destruction. F**king Jews. GTFOH with your whiny bulls**t. Give the Palestinians back their land, go back to Poland or whatever freezer-state you’re from, and realize that faith does not constitute race.”
  • At the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, after a BDS resolution was defeated, a disgruntled supporter of the measure posted “Palestine is 4 Palestinians not 4 a sick cult fm anywhere but Palestine with a sense of entitlement 2 it. Need that in Yiddish?”

At its most basic, the First Amendment allows anti-Semites to spew out their bile and venom. And it permits the rest of us, in turn, to call them repulsive bigots. That’s how it works. As SJP and its supporters demonstrate on a near-constant basis, free speech usually isn’t typified by polite conversations at tea parties. It’s rough-and-tumble, it’s noisy, it’s messy, and even at its most offensive, it’s as American as apple pie.

The proposed new act simply allows Jew-haters to be called out for what they are, regardless of whether they’re trying to disguise their bias as principled criticism of another country. That’s basic fairness, nothing more. And those who feel that it’s acceptable that loathsome extremists can benefit from free speech but their targets can’t are hypocrites, plain and simple.

So let’s be honest: If you think that only radical leftists deserve the right to free speech, maintain the status quo. But if you want to protect the First Amendment for everyone, support passage of the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act.

David Gemunder is an attorney, a leader in the Republican Jewish Coalition, and a member of the Board of Governors of Hillel International.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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