South Carolina’s governor urged his state’s Senate on Wednesday to pass legislation designed to counter campus antisemitism in time for signing on International Holocaust Remembrance Day later this month.
The measure seeks to ensure that South Carolina’s public colleges and universities will take the State Department’s definition of antisemitism into consideration when investigating allegations of discrimination against Jewish students.
TheÂ definitionÂ encompasses traditional anti-Jewish tropes – such as conspiracies about Jewish control of societal institutions – as well as efforts to “demonize,” “delegitimize,” and apply a “double standard” to Israel. It also acknowledges that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.”
The announcement was applauded by some advocates of Jewish students on campus.
Alyza Lewin, director of policy and chief operating officer at the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law (LDB), framed the bill as “a significant step” in deterring antisemitic activity in universities, amid a rise in anti-Jewish hostility “on both far ends of the political spectrum.”
LDB emphasized in a statement that the measure “is careful to protect First Amendment rights of all students on campus, and will not curb or restrict free speech or academic freedom.” The State Department’s definition of antisemitism is “substantially similar” to that used by the 31 member states of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, and the 50 countries included in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, excluding Russia, the legal group argued.
However, the bill hasÂ not been without controversy, with critics claiming that it could be used to chill free speech.
Shortly before it was unanimously approved by the South Carolina Senate’s higher education subcommittee in April, H. 3643 was strongly criticized by Kenneth Stern, who helped draft a working definition of antisemitism for the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC). The State Department’s definition of antisemitism was adapted from EUMC’s.
“It is an unnecessary law which will hurt Jewish students and the academy,” wrote Stern, now the executive director of the Justus & Karin Rosenberg Foundation. He argued that the bill is an effort “to have the state define a line where political speech about Israel is classified as anti-Semitic, and chilled if not suppressed.”
“Indeed, if certain expressions about Israel are officially defined as anti-Semitic,” Stern continued, “pro-Israel Jewish students will be further marginalized, having gained the reputation for suppressing, rather than answering, speech they don’t like.”
This was disputed byÂ the pro-Israel organization StandWithUs, which claimed that the billÂ does not restrictÂ “any form of speech.”
“It merely states that if a person engages in unprotected behavior, such as vandalism, law enforcement may consider anti-Semitic intent,” the group contended.
H. 3643 was overwhelmingly approved by South Carolina’s House of Representatives with a vote of 103-3 in March. If passed by the Senate and signed into law, it would be the first such state legislation adopted in the nation.
Advocates have regularly warned that Jews –Â the primary target of religiously motivated hate crimes in the United States, according to FBI statistics –Â face increasing antisemitismÂ atÂ American universities.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, a leading civil rights organization, reports of antisemitic incidents on US college campuses increased by 59 percent in 2017 compared to the previous year.
A 2016 study published by the watchdog group AMCHA Initiative argued “that the rise of anti-Zionism – particularly [boycott, divestment, and sanctions] campaigns and anti-Zionist student groups and faculty – is fueling the rise of anti-Semitism on campus.”
Source: The Algemeiner