Stop­ping anti-Semitic big­otry

There is a role for Congress in halt­ing the threats

The Washington Times Daily - - OPINION - By Abra­ham Cooper Abra­ham Cooper is the as­so­ciate dean of the Si­mon Wiesen­thal Cen­ter, a Jewish hu­man rights or­ga­ni­za­tion with more than 400,000 mem­bers.

His­tor­i­cally, Amer­i­cans’ re­sponse to hate speech has been more speech. The fo­cus has been on de­feat­ing big­otry in the mar­ket­place of ideas and to leave gov­ern­ment out of the strug­gle. This model has guided the ap­proaches of the Si­mon Wiesen­thal Cen­ter, the Anti-Defama­tion League (ADL) and other hu­man and civil rights non­govern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions. Yet right now, we, along with the ADL, Amer­i­can-Is­raeli Pub­lic Af­fairs Com­mit­tee (AIPAC), the Jewish Fed­er­a­tions of North Amer­ica, the Louis D. Bran­deis Cen­ter for Hu­man Rights Un­der Law, and many other Jewish or­ga­ni­za­tions are turn­ing to our gov­ern­ment for help. We are urg­ing Congress to pass the Anti-Semitism Aware­ness Act.

Why?

Be­cause Amer­i­can Jews are reel­ing from a surge of hate at­tacks. We have been wit­ness to a wave of bomb threats against Jewish com­mu­nity cen­ters, syn­a­gogues and schools. Jewish ceme­ter­ies have been tar­geted. We are grate­ful that the FBIm work­ing with over­seas agen­cies, in­clud­ing Is­rael, has iden­ti­fied the per­pe­tra­tors.

The tar­get­ing of Jews for hate crimes is not new. De­spite con­sti­tut­ing only 2 per­cent of the U.S. pop­u­la­tion, for more than a decade, the FBI’s Sta­tis­tics on Hate Crimes con­firms that Jews are the No. 1 tar­get of any other re­li­gion-based group in Amer­ica. This ugly re­al­ity on the ground is par­al­leled on the In­ter­net, in­clud­ing on so­cial me­dia, where anti-Semitism and ha­tred of other mi­nori­ties are in­cu­bated and mar­keted 24/7.

Along­side this fright­en­ing na­tional trend is the rise in anti-Semitism on col­lege cam­puses. What should be men­tally stim­u­lat­ing and phys­i­cally safe aca­demic spa­ces are quickly be­com­ing hot­beds of anti-Jewish bias, with stu­dents each year re­port­ing greater dis­com­fort at pub­licly iden­ti­fy­ing as Jewish.

In just the last two years alone, the ADL has re­ported a dou­bling in anti-Semitic in­ci­dents on col­lege cam­puses, while a re­cent study from Bran­deis Univer­sity shows that on many cam­puses more than one-third of Jewish stu­dents feel un­com­fort­able ex­press­ing their opin­ions about the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict, and of­ten feel si­lenced in de­bates about this topic, re­gard­less of their con­nec­tion to Is­rael.

Be­cause of the strong con­nec­tion be­tween the state of Is­rael and Jewish iden­tity, anti-Semitism can be mas­quer­aded as anti-Is­rael ac­tivism. That is why so many ma­jor Jewish or­ga­ni­za­tions, rep­re­sent­ing the full range of the so­cial, po­lit­i­cal and re­li­gious spec­trum of our com­mu­nity, sup­port the Anti-Semitism Aware­ness Act. This leg­is­la­tion pro­vides the U.S. Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion with a work­ing def­i­ni­tion of anti-Semitism to ad­e­quately rec­og­nize and take ac­tion when anti-Semitism rears its ugly head on col­lege cam­puses, and to sep­a­rate free crit­i­cism of Is­rael from ac­tions that dis­crim­i­nates against Jews. It could also serve as a guide for univer­sity and cam­pus of­fi­cials to act when crit­i­cism morphs into dis­crim­i­na­tion against their Jewish stu­dents.

Last year, the Se­nate unan­i­mously passed the bill, but this oc­curred too late in the ses­sion for the House to take ac­tion. Noth­ing has changed in that time, and if any­thing, re­cent events at col­lege cam­puses only in­ten­sify its need. Week after week, Jewish stu­dents face hos­til­ity, in­tim­i­da­tion and dis­crim­i­na­tion. We must en­sure that our col­lege cam­puses re­main safe learn­ing en­vi­ron­ments for ev­ery stu­dent, re­gard­less of one’s race, re­li­gion, eth­nic ori­gin, or po­lit­i­cal be­liefs and af­fil­i­a­tions.

The Anti-Semitism Aware­ness Act is the best tool for push­ing back against anti-Semitism on col­lege cam­puses with­out in­fring­ing on any­one’s con­sti­tu­tion­ally pro­tected rights. We urge our fel­low Amer­i­cans to help us in our strug­gle against his­tory’s old­est hate by back­ing this bi­par­ti­san bill.

IL­LUS­TRA­TION BY GREG GROESCH

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