Monday, December 12, 2016

U.S. and Britain Explore Definition of Anti-Semitism

On Dec. 1 the U.S. Senate passed by unanimous consent S.10, the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act of 2016. (ADL press release with background information.) In the convoluted language of much federal legislation, the bill would have instructed the Department of Education to use the definition of Anti-Semitism developed by the State Department's Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism-- including examples in an accompanying Fact Sheet-- in enforcing Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Title VI prohibits discrimination in programs receiving federal financial assistance.

The basic definition of Anti-Semitism incorporated by the bill is:
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 facilities.
Beyond this, though, the accompanying Fact Sheet includes in the definition of Anti-Semitism criticism of Israel which demonizes Israel, applies a double standard not demanded of any other democratic nation, or denies Israel's right to exist.  As reported last week by The Forward, S.10 has died in the House of Representatives as critics raised concerns that the bill could threaten federal funding at universities where speakers criticize Israel without a push back from college administrators.

Meanwhile yesterday Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May announced that Britain will formally adopt the definition of anti-Semitism developed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance-- the same definition as the basic statement incorporated in S.10.  This comes after the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee in October published a report on Antisemitism in the UK, and the Government this month published a Response to Home Affairs Committee Report. The Government's Response discusses at some length the question of whether or when criticism of Israel should be classified as Anti-Semitism.