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Is Anti-Zionist Speech Antisemitic?

By Kenneth Stern

I’m a co-author of the recent Alliance for Academic Freedom critique of the “Anti-Semitism Awareness Act,” and originally was the lawyer who was the lead drafter of the definition of anti-Semitism that would be codified into law should the ASAA be passed.  But I oppose the application of this definition in the proposed legislation.  This is from my 2016 NY Times op-ed on this subject:

The act would require the Department of Education, when deciding whether federal anti-discrimination laws have been violated, to consider the Department of State’s definition of anti-Semitism, which is a version of the “Working Definition of Anti-Semitism” issued in 2005 by the European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia. I was the lead author of the center’s definition, when I was director on anti-Semitism for the American Jewish Committee.  . . .

The definition was intended for data collectors writing reports about anti-Semitism in Europe. It was never supposed to curtail speech on campus.

And Jewish students are protected under the law as it now stands. In 2010 the Education Department clarified that Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, . . .  also protects Jewish students.  . . .

In a political environment in which all good is seen on one side and all bad on the other, a law that punishes political speech stirs more hatred.

When people are seduced by the false notion that a law can stop hateful ideas, they neglect to actually fight bigotry. Aside from conducting anonymous student surveys about campus climate, and making sure students know how to report harassment, there should be more courses on anti-Semitism, on the human capacity to hate, on the conflicting narratives of the Israel-Palestine conflict and on how to discuss difficult subjects.

I have just explained why this legislation is a bad idea for WNYC’s National Public Radio program, “On the Media.”   One can listen to this segment here; it begins with the ADL’s Michael Lieberman expressing a different point of view.  

Photo credit: Alisdare Hickson/Flickr 

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