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US Senate passes bill critics warn targets Palestine solidarity activism

December 2, 2016 at 10:21 am

The US Senate yesterday passed the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act which activists believe will stifle anti-Israel actions and target student groups.

The bill, proposed by Senators Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat, and Tim Scott, a South Carolina Republican, was introduced earlier this week, fast-tracked and adopted unanimously.

The act “seeks to adopt the US State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism so that the Education Department may consider it in investigating reports of religiously motivated campus crimes.”

The State Department relies on a controversial and contested definition of antisemitism first developed as a draft, working document by a European Union agency, but whose successor body subsequently abandoned it as not fit for purpose.

In examples of antisemitism provided by Senator Casey, “calling for…the killing or harming of Jews” is lumped together with “demonising Israel” and “judging Israel by a double standard”.

The bill was supported by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Federations of North America and the Simon Wiesenthal Centre.

Jewish Voice for Peace slammed the bill, which it said “takes aim at campus activism for Palestinian rights by codifying criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic.”

Tallie Ben Daniel, academic programme manager of Jewish Voice for Peace, said: “Instead of fighting the anti-Semitism entering the White House [a reference to Trump advisor Steve Bannon], this bill will go after 19-year-old students carrying protest signs against human rights abuses.”

She added: “The legislation would codify a problematic definition of anti-Semitism that right-wing Israel advocates have been trying for years to implement on college campuses in order to police student criticism of Israeli policy.”

Palestine Legal, meanwhile, urged lawmakers in the House “to vigorously oppose this attack on cherished First Amendment freedoms to criticise the government.”

“The definition uses broad and vague language that would allow virtually any criticism of Israel to be labelled as antisemitic”, Palestine Legal stated, “including any speech deemed to ‘demonise’, apply ‘double standards’ to, or ‘delegitimise’ Israel.”

Inside Higher Education noted how the contentious definition in question “was rejected by the University of California earlier this year after similar complaints from free speech advocates, faculty and students.”