Republican lawmaker seeks to muzzle students critical of Israel

 Josh Ruebner Rights and Accountability 9 August 2019

The misleadingly-named Anti-Semitism Awareness Act of 2019 has been introduced to the US House of Representatives shortly before its summer recess.

Republican lawmaker Doug Collins, who proposed the bill, is portraying it as “an effective tool for investigating whether prohibited discriminatory actions have become a barrier to learning” in universities.

As the legislation notes, however, the Department of Education already is empowered to investigate incidents of anti-Semitism as a form of discrimination.

A careful reading of its text suggests that its real intent is to muzzle students and teachers who oppose Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians.

The bill had earlier this year been introduced in the US Senate by Tim Scott, another Republican lawmaker.

It embraces the working definition of anti-Semitism approved in 2016 by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), a body bringing together 33 governments.

That definition is accompanied by several “examples” of anti-Semitism. They include claims that Israel’s foundation was a “racist endeavor” and “applying double standards” to Israel by requiring from it “behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.”

These examples affect political speech clearly protected by the First Amendment of the US constitution.

For example, students could run afoul of these examples by advocating for a one-state solution in Palestine, by hosting a speaker addressing Israel’s separate-and-unequal policies which discriminate between Jews and non-Jews, and running campus campaigns to boycott Israeli products or divest university funds from corporations profiting from Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people.

If the new bill were to become law, then the US Department of Education would be required to “take into consideration” these types of examples when assessing if an incident reported on US campuses was “motivated by anti-Semitic intent.”

A university which does not take action against students or teachers accused of anti-Semitism – based on their advocacy for Palestinian rights – could potentially lose federal funding.

New power to stifle activism

With passage of this bill, the US Congress would provide the Trump administration with powerful new statutory authority to further police and crack down on campus speech for Palestinian rights, a process well underway already.

When Donald Trump was running for president ahead of the 2016 election, his campaign team pledged to stifle campus activism for Palestinian rights. Jason Greenblatt and David Friedman, who at the time served as the co-chairs of Trump’s Israel Advisory Committee committed the future Trump administration to “ask the Justice Department to investigate coordinated attempts on college campuses to intimidate students who support Israel.”

Greenblatt now serves as Trump’s special representative for international negotiations, while Friedman is the US ambassador to Israel.

The Trump administration has delivered on its threat. Last year The Intercept published an exposé on the FBI’s use of the Canary Mission – a shadowy pro-Israel group – to question college students advocating for Palestinian rights.

The Trump administration also has attempted to crack down on Palestine activism on campus by nominating Kenneth Marcus as the assistant secretary for civil rights for the Department of Education.

Previously, Marcus was president of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law.

In that capacity, he filed or otherwise supported complaints against Palestinian rights campaigners by alleging that their activities violated Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. That provision bans discrimination based on race and national origin in all bodies receiving federal funding.

Last year, Marcus wrote a letter to the Zionist Organization of America announcing that the Office of Civil Rights was now using the controversial IHRA definition and examples of anti-Semitism to guide its investigations. He had not given any prior notice of that decision to the public.

The organization Palestine Legal argued at the time that Marcus was “sending a clear signal that attacking free speech for Palestinian rights is at the top of his agenda.”

The so-called Anti-Semitism Awareness Act is a dangerous attempt by Congress to retroactively provide Marcus with the legal authority to justify his use of this controversial definition to further muzzle campus criticism of Israel.

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