Right Web

Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

Senate Passes a Dumb and Dangerous Bill

Without debate or an actual vote, the Senate stealthily passed a disturbing and dangerous piece of legislation called “The Anti-Semitism Awareness Act of 2016," which requires the Department of Education to apply the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism in evaluating complaints of discrimination on US campuses. The problem is, the State guidelines on anti-Semitism were designed to help US officials monitor anti-Semitism abroad. They were not intended to be applied to police speech on college campuses here in the US.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Lobelog

This week, without debate or an actual vote, the US Senate stealthily passed a disturbing and dangerous piece of legislation introduced by Senators Tim Scott (R-SC) and Bob Casey (D-PA). Called “The Anti-Semitism Awareness Act of 2016” (AAA), the Scott-Casey bill requires the Department of Education (DOE) to apply the State Department’s (DOS) definition of anti-Semitism in evaluating complaints of discrimination on US campuses.  

The DOS definition of and guidelines on anti-Semitism were designed to help US officials monitor anti-Semitism abroad. They were not intended to be applied to police speech on college campuses here in the US.  

In developing their definition and guidance, the DOS adopted language used by the European Union Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC),

“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 institutions”. 

This description of anti-Semitism is both correct and instructive, as are several examples of contemporary anti-Semitism mentioned in the DOS guidance, including: “accusing Jews, as a people, of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, the State of Israel, or even for acts committed by non-Jews”; or “making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews – or the power of Jews – as a collective”. These and other examples cited in the guidance are objectively anti-Semitic and patently wrong.  

Where the DOS guidance goes “off the rails” is when they try to expand the definition to include “anti-Semitism relative to Israel”, citing, as examples, speech that demonizes or delegitimizes Israel or that applies a double standard to Israel. The example given for applying a “double standard for Israel” is “requiring…behavior [of Israel] not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation”. With this expansion of the definition of anti-Semitism, the guidance becomes both subjective and open to dangerous abuse by those who would use it to silence criticism of Israel.  

This language is so vague and open to interpretation that when the University of California Board of Regents was being pressed to apply the DOS guidance to California campuses, the lead author of the EUMC definition of anti-Semitism objected, pointing out the dangers this would present to free speech, saying that “enshrining such a definition on a college campus is an ill-advised idea that will make matters worse, and not only for Jewish students; it would also damage the university as a whole”. 

In short remarks introducing their bill, the two senators presented it as an effort to protect Jewish students from the scourge of anti-Semitic harassment. They told stories of pro-Israel Jewish students living in fear on their campuses. Interestingly, however, when the DOE’s civil rights unit investigated reports of widespread anti-Semitism creating a hostile environment on specific  campuses, the DOE teams found the charges largely baseless.  

If the bill is dangerous and even unnecessary, then why did Scott and Casey do it? And why did they rush to pass it without debate or discussion? Reading the “fact sheet” Scott and Casey attached to their legislation reveals the AAA’s sinister political intent – and that is, silencing campus student movements and activities that are critical of Israel, in particular the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction movement (BDS). Seen in this light the AAA is but an extension of other legislative efforts in Congress and, at last count, 22 state legislatures to either ban or penalize individuals or entities that participate in any forms of BDS against the State of Israel.   

All of this is wrong on so many levels. It has the US government unfairly influencing a necessary debate that is taking place on college campuses weighing in to support one side, while threatening the other side if they cross an undefined and arbitrary line. 

These efforts tell Palestinian and progressive Jewish students that their speech will be policed and that they may be subject to penalties. If students were to call Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu “a monster” or accuse him and the Israeli military of “a barbaric assault on Gaza” – would they be accused of “demonizing”? Or what if students spoke about Israel’s 1948 “ethnic cleansing” of Palestinians or focused their political work on criticizing Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands, but said nothing about (or maybe didn’t even care to know about) Turkey’s occupation in Cyprus or Russia’s in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine – could they be charged with delegitimizing Israel or applying a “double standard”?  

At the same time that these efforts will act to intimidate and silence pro-Palestinian activity on campuses, they will also serve to embolden pro-Israel student groups to file repeated complaints against BDS and pro-Palestinian organizations. 

What I am find most ironic here is the degree to which this entire discussion has turned reality upside down. I understand awful and hurtful things have been said and that some pro-Israel students may feel “uncomfortable” in some instances, or that the BDS debate on their campuses may make them feel like they are in a “hostile” environment. But it is inexcusable to ignore the harassment and threats and defamation endured by any students who are advocating for Palestinian rights. Oftentimes, they are the ones operating in a hostile environment. They are the ones targeted by well-funded campaigns and subjected to threats and harassment. And when Arab Americans write opinion pieces in school newspapers, the comments’ sections are filled with bigotry and hate. 

The bottom line is that there are times when the debate has become ugly and students on all sides have crossed the line. When this occurs, what universities should be addressing the need for greater civility in our political discourse and helping to create an environment that encourages openness to debating controversial issues. That’s what we need. What we don’t need is a ham-fisted effort by senators to silence debate which will only create more hostility and less civility. 

James J. Zogby is the president of the Arab American Institute.

Share RightWeb

Featured Profiles

Former Vice President Dick Cheney was a leading framer of the “global war on terror” and a staunch supporter of aggressive U.S. military action around the world.


Mike Pompeo, the Trump administration’s second secretary of state, is a long time foreign policy hawk and has led the public charge for an aggressive policy toward Iran.


Right Web readers will be familiar with Mr. Fleitz, the former CIA officer who once threatened to take “legal action” against Right Web for publicizing reports of controversies he was associated with in the George W. Bush administration. Fleitz recently left his job at the conspiracy-mongering Center for Security Policy to become chief of staff to John Bolton at the National Security Council.


Norm Coleman is chair of the Republican Jewish Coalition and a former senator from Minnesota known for his hawkish views on foreign policy.


Billionaire hedge fund mogul Paul Singer is known for his predatory business practices and support for neoconservative causes.


Keith Kellogg, national security adviser to Vice President Mike Pence, is a passionate supporter of Trump’s foreign policy.


Christians United for Israel (CUFI), the largest “pro-Israel” advocacy group in the United States, is known for its zealous Christian Zionism and its growing influence in the Republican Party.


For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The Trumpian new regional order in the Middle East is predicated on strongman rule, disregard for human rights, Sunni primacy over Iran and other Shia centers of power, continued military support for pro-American warring parties regardless of the unlawfulness of such wars, and Israeli hegemony.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

A comparison of U.S. nuclear diplomacy with Iran and the current version with North Korea puts the former in a good light and makes the latter look disappointing. Those with an interest in curbing the dangers of proliferating nuclear weapons should hope that the North Korea picture will improve with time. But whether it does or not, the process has put into perspective how badly mistaken was the Trump administration’s trashing of the Iran nuclear agreement.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Numerous high profile Trump administration officials maintain close ties with anti-Muslim conspiracy theorists. In today’s America, disparaging Islam is acceptable in ways that disparaging other religions is not. Given the continuing well-funded campaigns by the Islamophobes and continuing support from their enablers in the Trump administration, starting with the president himself, it seems unlikely that this trend will be reversed any time soon.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The Trump administration’s nuclear proliferation policy is now in meltdown, one which no threat of “steely resolve”—in Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s words—will easily contain. It is hemorrhaging in part because the administration has yet to forge a strategy that consistently and credibly signals a feasible bottom line that includes living with—rather than destroying—regimes it despises or fears. Political leaders on both sides of the aisle must call for a new model that has some reasonable hope of restraining America’s foes and bringing security to its Middle East allies.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Congressional midterm elections are just months away and another presidential election already looms. Who will be the political leader with the courage and presence of mind to declare: “Enough! Stop this madness!” Man or woman, straight or gay, black, brown, or white, that person will deserve the nation’s gratitude and the support of the electorate. Until that occurs, however, the American penchant for war will stretch on toward infinity.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

To bolster the president’s arguments for cutting back immigration, the administration recently released a fear-mongering report about future terrorist threats. Among the potential threats: a Sudanese national who, in 2016, “pleaded guilty to attempting to provide material support to ISIS”; an Uzbek who “posted a threat on an Uzbek-language website to kill President Obama in an act of martyrdom on behalf of ISIS”; a Syrian who, in a plea agreement, “admitted that he knew a member of ISIS and that while in Syria he participated in a battle against the Syrian regime, including shooting at others, in coordination with Al Nusrah,” an al-Qaeda offshoot.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The recent appointment of purveyors of anti-Muslim rhetoric to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom exposes the cynical approach Republicans have taken in promoting religious freedom.


RightWeb
share