Since last month’s election, American Jews have expressed concern about a rise in hate crimes against Jews and other minority groups. Many have voiced outrage at the appointment of individuals who have trafficked in anti-Semitism and other forms of prejudice to prominent government positions.
However, the “Anti-Semitism Awareness Act,” passed yesterday in the Senate, fails to address these issues. Rather, it mis-classifies criticism of Israel as anti-Semitism and aims to ensure that the Department of Education will investigate and suppress criticism of Israel on campus.
In 2010, Hillel International barred the so-called “3 D’s” — delegitimization, demonization, and applying a double standard to Israel — as part of its Standards of Partnership for Israel Activities. Since then, we have seen how this policy has done nothing to combat anti-Semitism. Rather, this vague language has served to silence both Jewish and non-Jewish students, professors, and activists and to stifle crucial conversations on Israel-Palestine on campus. Moreover, Hillel’s censorship has promoted division and misunderstanding both within the Jewish community and between Jewish community members and other faith and cultural groups on campus.
The Jewish Federations of North America have supported such restrictions on discourse, supposedly in the name of combatting anti-Semitism. Indeed, the Jewish Federations have conditioned their support for local Jewish organizations — such as Hillels, synagogues, and JCCs, — on those organizations’ adherence to censorship of perspectives that challenge the current Israeli government.
We are deeply disturbed that such speech restrictions could now become codified as US law.
As Jews, we draw from our collective history and memory to inform our actions moving forward. We remember the terror of McCarthyism, which targeted American Jews (as well as other immigrant and minority groups) and labeled our community as anti-American. We fear that this legislation will not only target Jewish anti-Occupation activists, but also that it will disproportionately target minority communities on campus, such as Palestinian students, Muslim students, and Jewish and non-Jewish students of color.
For all of these reasons, we call upon the Jewish Federations of North America and the Anti-Defamation League to withdraw their support for this legislation and to stand up for free speech, civil liberties, and civil rights.
In order to combat hate, we call upon these organizations to work to form real, grassroots relationships between communities. We call upon the JFNA, the ADL, and other Jewish institutional leaders to embrace, rather than silence, open and honest discussions both within and beyond the Jewish community. We call upon these Jewish leaders to show solidarity with other communities facing discrimination and which may be particularly targeted by the upcoming Trump administration. And we call upon these institutions to promote an inclusive and pluralistic Jewish community and American society that promotes free and open discourse.