We Support Free Speech
By: Alena Khan/Arab America Contributing Writer
Just a few days ago a bill was introduced to Congress that challenges our First Amendment protected right of free speech. The bicameral bill known as the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act of 2018 aims to restrict criticism of Israel and pro-Palestinian advocacy. The bill sparks up a lot of controversies as it is overly broad, counterproductive, and unconstitutional.
The Anti-Semitism Awareness Act of 2018 abuses the working definition of anti-Semitism by misappropriation of a State Department. Back in 2010, a State Department created a working definition of anti-Semitism, purposely defined to be a loose guide for research and data collection in Europe. Meaning, this definition had no intention of being applicable domestically.
The Act takes advantage of this domestic application, aiming towards expanding the protections under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include criticism of Israel. Ken Stern, author of the original definition itself says that this approach would be “an affront to academic freedom,” and “unconstitutional and unwise.” This bill clearly violates the original intention of the definition by abusing the powers of the law and combining political opposition with hate.
The Act does not effectively confront the real issues with anti-Semitism, but rather works to suppress any speech critical of Israel. With the suppression of our free speech, this act would be a huge step back in the fight to combat anti-Semitism. The bill limits discussions of foreign policy and civil rights that the government and we as citizens must have to address the real concern here, anti-Semitic hate.
While the bill claims to put an end to the increase of anti-Semitism on school campuses, it does nothing of the sort for anybody else. The bill fails to mention anything about criticizing those who are Muslim, Arab, Sikh, women or anyone else for that matter. The bill doesn’t address the criticism of Muslim or Arab countries, or the hate towards people of those groups, but it does so for Israel.
This shows the true intention of the bill, the fact that it’s meant to inhibit those who are critical of not only Israel but the Israeli government and its policies. The act presents a narrow viewpoint of discrimination, only being in favor of one group of people and its country, rather than including all those who are discriminated against.
As if these reasons weren’t enough, the bill on top of that is overly broad and simply unconstitutional. The definition of anti-Semitism and the real problems behind it need to be focused on rather than aiming all the attention at the criticism of Israel.
According to the Arab American Institute (AAI), “No other political entity is afforded such unequivocal protection from criticism of foreign governments and US foreign policy.” In efforts to combat anti-Semitism, this bill shows to be counterproductive by violating one of our main freedoms, the right for free speech. Students, activists, educators, and officials, all will have their voices silenced, not able to freely express their opinions, to protest what they believe in, to teach what is right and wrong.
Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) representatives express how this bill is ineffective, “it’s not an anti-Semitism awareness act—it’s the silencing students act…instead of fighting anti-Semitism, re-introduced legislation is a cynical attempt to silence human rights activists on college campuses.” Activists voice how the bill would, in fact, censor the exchange of ideas and censor Israeli critics, limiting our freedom of expression.
Photo: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst
ACLU executive director Anthony Romero expresses his concern about how the bill will affect free speech especially with college students, “College campuses should be havens for free expression, and students must be free to express their opinions and viewpoints, so long as they avoid harassment. We urge Congress to reject this dangerous and unnecessary bill.”
It’s important to take action now, as even more recently Kenneth Marcus, President Donald Trump’s nomination for head of the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Education is being debated. Marcus fails to meet the standard of showing an equal application of civil rights protections without any bias towards people of different race, gender, sex, etc. As our political environment has seen an unfortunate increase in discrimination against Muslims, Semitics, Arabs, women, the LGBTQ community and more, it’s imperative to have an OCR director that can work for the people—all the people.
Maya Berry, executive director of AAI explains how important it is to take action at this time, “Both the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act and Marcus’s potential nomination are a clear signal that those who can no longer win the debate are attempting to shut it down.” Kenneth Marcus has consistently opposed affirmative action, undermined the protection of LGBTQ individuals, and weakened the protections of equal education, while the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act of 2018 is unconstitutional, creating a narrow viewpoint of discrimination, and abusing the powers of the law. This is the time to take action, to protect our right to free speech and stop the conflation of political opposition and instances of hate.”