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Not All Criticism of Israel is Anti-Semitism

posted on: Sep 17, 2018

By: Alena Khan/Arab America Contributing Writer

Our right to freedom of speech has faced its obstacles throughout history, and in the recent months, we face another–the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act of 2018. The proposed bill along with the new addition of Kenneth Marcus in the Department of Education (ED) is challenging free speech on college campuses, now more than ever and some form of action needs to take place.

The Anti-Semitism Awareness Act of 2018, although claiming to combat anti-Semitism, really aims to put a stop to any anti-Israel or pro-Palestine comments. While Kenneth Marcus, the recently confirmed Assistant Secretary of Civil Rights at ED has “spent his career attempting to stifle Palestine organizing on campus–to exert pressure on universities to crack down on Palestine organizations.”

Both Marcus and the proposed bill bring new challenges to free speech that must be addressed. There are civil rights laws in place that protect Jews, Christians, Muslims and other religious groups from discriminations on college campuses, however, this bill would change things. If this bill is to be signed, all complaints of anti-Semitism on campus would have to be investigated. Under this legislation, the Department of Education would have to “take into consideration” an extremely vague definition of anti-Semitism that was first published back in 2010 for research purposes.

Freedom of speech on college campuses is already consistently challenged and under pressure, and that’s without the concern of the government threatening to withdraw funding as punishment for expressing their personal political opinions. And if Trump were to sign this bill, that could become a very real and alarming possibility. The Los Angeles Times express their concerns with the negative impact this bill can have, “This proposal would blur the distinction between unacceptable, intimidating expressions of intolerance directed against Jews with criticism of the state of Israel.” Students who are Palestinian rights advocates are often silenced or suppressed by pro-Israel groups, and other supporters. If this bill were to become a law, it would only add to that.

What’s important here is to understand that not all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic and that conflating both is what will make the Department of Education have to review any speech against Israel under this legislation. For example, would it be considered anti-Semitic to argue that Israel should be a secular nation, or is that just expressing the idea that the state of Israel needs a change? It should be acknowledged that even if there are anti-Semites involved in some of Israel’s critiques, not all anti-Israel speech is inherently anti-Semitic.

According to Josh Ruebner, policy director at the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, “By also equating speech critical of Israel with anti-Semitism, this bill also trivializes the very real rise of anti-Semitism in the US…the rise of anti-Semitism—from neo-Nazis marching through the streets of Charlottesville, VA shouting “Jews will not replace us!” to the desecration of Jewish cemeteries—is symptomatic of the vile white nationalism that the President reflects and embodies.”

With our political environment at more of a divide now, it would be better go along with a bill combating anti-Semitism, that targets other forms of discrimination and racism against all groups, including Muslims, Arabs and other immigrants etc. However, it makes you question, do the President and members of the Trump administration have a part to play in why a bill with such a narrow viewpoint of discrimination has been introduced? “The bill fails to acknowledge the hatred which is directed towards any non-white groups. Ruebner adds, “Black, brown, indigenous, immigrant, Muslim, Sikh, Jewish communities (to name a few) are all targeted by this white nationalist hatred and policies of the Trump administration, which is vigorously implementing a white nationalist agenda.”

Being the future of this nation, college students deserve the chance and a right to express their opinions. “Students speaking out for Palestinian rights on college campuses already face severe repression by university administrators, and pro-Israel campus groups and alumni,” says Ruebner. “This bill is completely superfluous…it is a blatant and transparent attempt to use the heavy-hand government to police speech on campus critical of Israel and supportive of Palestinian freedom, justice, and equality.” With everything going on in our country it’s imperative to have a voice, so do we really need a speech code for college campuses?

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