(Emily Larsen, Liberty Headlines) Heated academic discussion dominated a House Judiciary Committee hearing which examined anti-Semitism on college campuses on Tuesday.
A large panel of expert witnesses made up of Rabbis, academics, and representative from the major pro-Jewish organizations like Christians United for Israel, the Anti-Defamation League, and PEN America described instances of campus anti-Semitism, including: a female Jewish student stalked by anti-Israel activists and taunted; “Zionists should be sent to the gas chamber” written in a campus bathroom; rocks being thrown at pro-Israel students table on campus; physical assaults; and destruction of property.
Instances of anti-Semitism are on the rise nationwide, up 67 percent from last year, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) expressed concern that rising anti-Israel sentiment contributes to these instances of harassment.
“I’m also concerned about the so-called ‘BDS Movement,’ an effort that through boycott, divestment, and sanctions seeks to end international support for Israel…I will do everything I can to ensure that relationship remains strong,” said Goodlatte in his opening statement.
But complaints filed by Jewish students at three University of California system schools under Title IV of the 1964 Civil Rights Act were dismissed, according to Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. The problem, said Rabbi Cooper, is that there isn’t a clear definition of anti-Semitism in the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.
The hearing centered around last year’s proposed Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, which would provide a definition of anti-Semitism to be used by the federal government in cases of harassment on college campuses. The bill unanimously passed the Senate last year, but stalled in the House due to concerns that it would infringe on First Amendment rights.
Pamela Nadell, a professor and president of the Association for Jewish Studies at American University, agreed that anti-Semites are targeting college campuses, and cited studies that show Jewish students regularly encounter antisemitism on their college campuses. But she didn’t think that the actions are severe enough to create a culture of fear on the college campuses, or impede Jewish students’ ability to learn.
Also of major concern was when, or if, criticism of Israel constitutes anti-Semitism.
Barry Trachtenberg, a history professor at Wake Forest University, warned Congressmen to not over-define anti-Semitism such as that it would include critical discussions of Israel, as that would infringe on the academic freedom and free speech rights of faculty and students.
“Students who engage in speech critical of Israeli policy are largely motivated by their concern for Palestinian human rights. They are not motivated by anti-Semitic hate, but its opposite—a desire to end racial and religious discrimination of all kinds,” said Trachtenberg in his opening statement.
In a heated moment, Trachtenberg suggested that under the proposed definition, stating truths about Jewish people could be interpreted as anti-Semitism.
“The State Department claims that stating that a particular Jewish person has more loyalty to the state of Israel than they do to their own country is necessarily an example of anti-Semitism, when the truth is, that’s one of the fundamental principles of Zionism,” said Trachtenberg.
Rabbi Cooper quickly challenged Trachtenberg’s statement.
“The idea of dual loyalty, or being more loyal to a nation than the one we’ve been born into, is inherent in Zionism as was just stated by another speaker, cannot go unchallenged,” said Rabbi Cooper. “It’s not true, and it’s not accurate.”
Some Congressmen urged the academics to not get caught up in hypothetical examples of free speech infringements and focus on the issues of Jewish students not feeling safe on campus.
“[W]hat’s been missing is a discussion of the free speech of Jewish students who do not feel free to speak out,” stated Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL). “They don’t feel free to support Israel openly, they don’t feel free to join student government and talk about Judaism and their involvement in their Jewish community, and there are examples time and time again.”