Defending Rights & Dissent Calls on Congress to Reject Cynically Misnamed Bill Designed to Hamper Human Rights Advocacy

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Anti-semitism, like all forms of bigotry, is reprehensible, but the so-called Anti-Semitism Awareness Act is a cynical attempt to exploit good faith concerns about anti-Semitism to silence student speech. The bill’s real target is not anti-semitism at all, but student political speech in support of Palestinian human rights. As such, it is unconstitutional.  

If passed, the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act would force the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) to adopt a definition of anti-Semitism that equates criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. When this bill was previously proposed, the author of the definition in question, Kenneth Stern, spoke out against it stating that to applying such a definition of anti-Semitism to an academic setting would violate the First Amendment.

Opponents of Palestinian human rights advocacy have repeatedly attempted to silence such speech by bringing frivolous complaints to the OCR. The OCR has repeatedly rejected their claims that political speech critical of Israel and/or supportive of Palestinian human rights constituted a violation of federal civil rights law. OCR has an important mission of protecting civil rights in college settings, by forcing the OCR to treat political speech as a civil rights violation, this bill dilutes OCR’s vital mission.

Criticism of Israel and/or advocacy of Palestinian human rights are core political speech protected by the First Amendment. By attempting to suppress such speech, the Anti-Semitism Awareness runs afoul of the First Amendment. Congress must reject it.