WASHINGTON – The Anti-Defamation League is urging US lawmakers to pass the Antisemitism Awareness Act, a bill that would define antisemitism for the Justice Department in its investigation of potential hate crimes against Jews.
The legislation – which passed the Senate last year, but has been held up in the House of Representatives – would help combat a measurable rise in antisemitic incidents across the US, particularly on college campuses, ADL’s national director Jonathan Greenblatt said in testimony before a House panel on Tuesday.
The Antisemitism Awareness Act would have the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights adopt a definition of antisemitism outlined by the State Department, which asserts that the demonization, delegitimization and application of double standards on Israel are fundamentally antisemitic.
In their investigations of hate crimes, US prosecutors would take these behaviors into consideration if the law should pass.
Several civil liberties advocates oppose the bill, fearing it would infringe on the First Amendment right of Americans to boycott Israel. But proponents of the bill consider the BDS movement discriminatory under existing federal law – specifically the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects individuals against discrimination based on religious identity or national origin.
The House Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday examined an uptick in incidents on college campuses. The ADL reported a 59% increase in antisemitic attacks at colleges in 2017 over the previous year and a 107% increase in kindergarten through grade 12 in schools.
“Hate speech may be protected, but administrators and student leaders have a moral responsibility to address the accompanying harm,” Greenblatt told the panel. “The federal government has a responsibility to provide funding for anti-bias, bullying prevention, and prejudice reduction initiatives for K-12 schools and the community.”
More broadly, ADL found that a neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, this past summer, may have been a watershed moment for antisemitism nationwide.
The organization tracked a 182% increase in incidents in the months that followed.