US lawmakers look to expand definition of anti-Semitism for schools

House legislation, mirroring Senate bill passed last week, would outline when Israel criticism crosses into anti-Semitism

Illustrative: a screenshot from the documentary 'Crossing the Line 2,' which depicts rising anti-Semitic activity on North American campuses. (Courtesy)
Illustrative: a screenshot from the documentary 'Crossing the Line 2,' which depicts rising anti-Semitic activity on North American campuses. (Courtesy)

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan slate of leading members of the US House of Representatives introduced a bill that would expand how the Department of Education defines anti-Semitism in advising learning institutions on how to identify discrimination.

The bill introduced December 2 by Reps. Peter Roskam, R-Ill, and Ted Deutch, D-Fla, replicates a similar bill passed last week by the Senate, which was sponsored by Sens. Tim Scott, R-SC, and Bob Casey, D-Pa.

The bill has the backing of senior House members, including Reps. Eliot Engel, D-NY, Nita Lowey, D-NY and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla.

The bill expands previous guidelines sent periodically to educational institutions receiving federal funding to define anti-Semitism according to a definition first published by the State Department in 2010.

That bill adopts the European Parliament Working Group on Anti-Semitism’s definition: “Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

Peter Roskam (CC BY-SA Gage Skidmore, Flickr)
Peter Roskam (CC BY-SA Gage Skidmore, Flickr)

Both definitions also outline when criticism of Israel crosses into anti-Semitism, citing the “three Ds” first advanced by Natan Sharansky, the Israeli politician and former prisoner of the Soviet Gulag: demonization, double standard and delegitimization.

The Anti-Defamation League, which has led lobbying for the legislation, said the bill, should it become law, “addresses a core concern of Jewish and pro-Israel students and parents: When does the expression of anti-Semitism, anti-Israel sentiment and anti-Zionist beliefs cross the line from First Amendment protected free expression to unlawful discriminatory conduct?”

A number of left-wing and pro-Palestinian groups have criticized the legislation, saying the Israel-related language is too vague and would inhibit debate on campus about Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.

“It mis-classifies criticism of Israel as anti-Semitism and aims to ensure that the Department of Education will investigate and suppress criticism of Israel on campus,” said a statement by Open Hillel, a loose network of campus groups that reject restrictions on engagement with other students that exist under the aegis of the more established Jewish student umbrella, Hillel.

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