Oppose misleadingly entitled Anti-Semitism Awareness Act

August 28, 2019
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American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) calls on Members of Congress not to cosponsor the misleadingly entitled Anti-Semitism Awareness Act of 2019 (S.852 and H.R.4009). AMP also calls on Members of Congress who have cosponsored this bill to withdraw their sponsorship from legislation which could harm the First Amendment right of students to speak and advocate for Palestinian rights

AMP is a national organization which educates the public about the just cause of Palestine and the rights of self-determination, liberty and justice. AMP upholds inherent human rights for all people everywhere and firmly stands against all forms of bigotry and racism, including anti-Semitism. Read more about the Islamic principles of justice and equality that inform our stance in our anti-bigotry statement.

If the primary purpose of the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act were to provide additional tools under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act to combat dangerous anti-Jewish bigotry, then AMP would unambiguously support it. However, this is not the case. 

As the legislation itself acknowledges, in its third finding, “the Department of Justice and the Department of Education have properly concluded that title VI prohibits discrimination against Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, and members of other religious groups when the discrimination is based on the group’s actual or perceived shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics or when the discrimination is based on actual or perceived citizenship or residence in a country whose residents share a dominant religion or a distinct religious identity.”

In other words, discrimination against Jewish students is already prohibited and the Department of Education already has a mandate to investigate and attempt to remedy real anti-Jewish bigotry on campus.

Thus, the real intent of the legislation lies elsewhere, hidden indirectly in Section 3 of the bill’s definitions. If enacted into law, this bill would require the Department of Education to redefine anti-Semitism to “includes the definition of anti-Semitism adopted on May 26, 2016, by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance” along with its controversial “[c]ontemporary examples of antisemitism”.

This central objective of the bill is understandably obfuscated because of its obvious First Amendment infirmities. If these controversial “[c]ontemporary examples of antisemitism” were relied upon by the Department of Education to determine if anti-Jewish discrimination occurred, then wide swaths of constitutionally protected political speech in support of Palestinian rights would be swept up in its ambit. 

For example, the IHRA includes among its flawed examples of antisemitism “[d]enying the Jewish people their right to self-determination,” “claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor,” and “[a]pplying double standards by requiring of it [Israel] a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation”. All of these claims are frequently levied by pro-Israel students, student organizations, and off-campus organizations in an attempt to harass, malign, and intimidate students supportive of Palestinian rights and quash their ability to speak and organize on campus.

Students advocating for one democratic state in which Jewish Israelis and Palestinians would be equal citizens are often blasted with the canard of trying to deny self-determination to Jewish people. 

Israel, through its 2018 Jewish Nation-State Basic Law, which enjoys constitutional status, “enshrines Jewish supremacy over Palestinian citizens. The law has distinct apartheid characteristics and requires racist acts as a constitutional value,” according to the Israeli-based civil rights organization Adalah. Whether Israel is a “racist endeavor” is an important political question, not a criterion for determining anti-Jewish bigotry.

Finally, chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine, often in conjunction with a broad coalition of campus-based social justice organizations, are often falsely accused of holding Israel to a “double standard” when they seek to have their university divest funds from corporations which profit from Israel’s human rights abuses of Palestinians.

These few examples suffice to show the dangers of enacting into law the IHRA’s flawed examples of antisemitism. 

However, perhaps even more disturbing than the potential future damage this bill could inflict on students who advocate for Palestinian rights is the fact that this legislation seeks to provide post facto justification for a process already initiated by the Trump administration. 

The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) of the Department of Education is tasked with undertaking investigations into violations of students’ rights under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. The Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, who heads this office, is Kenneth Marcus

Before being narrowly confirmed by the Senate, Marcus was the president and general counsel of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, an organization which repeatedly filed or otherwise supported spurious and frivolous complaints with the Department of Education against students advocating for Palestinian rights. The department dismissed all of these complaints. 

However, with Marcus now at the helm of OCR, he is trying to accomplish from the inside of the department what he failed to do from outside it: suppress activism for Palestinian rights on college campuses. Toward that end, Marcus wrote last year a letter to the Zionist Organization of America informing the organization that OCR had adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism along with its controversial examples. This unilateral move was done with no public notice or public comment period in violation of departmental regulations and transparent government. 

The misleadingly entitled Anti-Semitism Awareness Act is designed to give retroactive, statutory authority to Marcus and his ongoing campaign to suppress campus activism in support of Palestinian rights. Congress should not empower his gambit and help the Trump administration undermine our constitutional right to free speech.