Congress Moves to Suppress Palestine Activism on Campuses!
(WASHINGTON, D.C. 5/25/2018)— On Wednesday, May 23, the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act of 2018 was introduced in Congress (H.R.5924) and (S.2940)—with bipartisan and bicameral support—for the third time after failing to pass previously. The bill, which was backed by pro-Israel groups such as the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), American Jewish Congress (AJC), and AIPAC, among others, is intended to expand the definition of anti-Semitism of the Title VI Civil Rights Act to include criticism of Israel.
The bill, which should have been named “The Silencing Students Act,” is intended to codify the suppression of student activism by granting the Department of Education (DOE) the authority to censure pro-Palestine student groups. It is no coincidence that the bill’s introduction was followed by the immediate and unanimous decision by the Senate HELP committee to end debate on the controversial nomination of Kenneth Marcus and move for a floor vote.
Kenneth Marcus, the Trump and Betsy DeVos nominee for Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights in the DOE, has been leading the charge for 14 years against student activists by filing numerous, frivolous, and ultimately rejected Title VI complaints of anti-Semitism. Undoubtedly, this bill was written for Marcus to provide him with the legal cover to enforce his insidious agenda. With his appointment, he will have the authority to investigate universities that allow First Amendment-protected advocacy for Palestinian rights. He will further be able to find universities that allow student speech critical of Israel to be in violation of Title VI, and lose their federal funding.
The bill was also criticized by the ACLU which expressed concern about the chilling effect on the free speech of students on college campuses. According to the ACLU’s statement, “By equating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism, the bill is likely to cause college campuses to stifle protected speech in order to avoid investigations by the Department of Education.” Kenneth Stern, the executive director of the Justus & Karin Rosenberg Foundation, and author of the original anti-Semitism bill on which this bill is based, has testified against the expansion of its definition to include criticism of Israel and the occupation. According to Stern, “The definition was not drafted, and was never intended, as a tool to target or chill speech on a college campus. In fact, at a conference in 2010 about the impact of the definition, I highlighted this misuse, and the damage it could do.”
That this bill would be reintroduced just a week after Trump’s anti-Semitic faith adviser who said “Jews go to hell” helped inaugurate the Jerusalem U.S. embassy opening, is a clear message that pro-Israel politicians and organizations have no interest in combating actual anti-Semitism but rather in suppressing pro-Palestine voices.