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July 3, 2015 6:51 am

Why Universities Need a Definition of Anti-Semitism

avatar by Ken Marcus / JointMedia News Service

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Jack Langson Library at UC Irvine. Photo: wiki commons.

Jack Langson Library at UC Irvine. Photo: wiki commons. – Does it matter how we define our words? Sometimes it does. The U.S. Department of Education understands this point, as do the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Universities need to learn it, too.

Last year, the Education Department paid CDC to develop a uniform definition of the word “bullying.” Both agencies recognized that a uniform definition was needed to assist schools to understand what bullying is, when it occurs, and whether efforts to prevent it are successful.

This is a basic point, and yet it is lost on many people, especially when the students involved are Jewish.

Later this month, the Regents of the 10-campus University of California (UC) system will decide whether to adopt a uniform definition of anti-Semitism. They are responding to requests from several organizations, including mine, to adopt the U.S. State Department’s well-regarded definition.

This is a big issue for the UC schools, which have recently seen many high-profile anti-Semitic incidents.

At UCLA, student government officials questioned a Jewish student’s ability to be impartial on the university’s Judicial Board due to her “strong Jewish identity.”

At UC Davis, Jewish students were harassed during the occupation of a university administrative building by anti-Israel protesters.

At UC Santa Barbara, a student wearing a Star of David necklace was spit on.

The problem is not limited to California. Earlier this year, the Louis D. Brandeis Center and Trinity College issued a report demonstrating that 54 percent of Jewish college students reported experiencing or witnessing anti-Semitism during the 2013-14 academic year.

To address this problem, universities must start with good definitions. As the CDC has explained, good definitions improve prevention by increasing consistency, facilitating comparison across data collection systems, and enabling the comparison of research on intervention and prevention programs.

Definitions are especially important for contemporary anti-Semitism, because confusion surrounds the relationship between Jew-hatred and animosity towards Israel. Virtually all authorities agree that some, but not all, of the hate directed against Israel crosses the line into anti-Semitism.

Good definitions not only educate us about how quickly discourse can slip, even unwittingly, into dark corners, but they also foster legitimate intellectual exchanges by increasing awareness about where lines are drawn. This serves the academic interest in robust debate that is central to a university’s mission.

The State Department provides useful examples to understand when conduct is anti-Semitic. The Department uses the so-called “3D test.” Actions may generally be identified as anti-Semitic when they demonize Israel, delegitimize Israel, or subject Israel to double standards.

When I was staff director at the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, the Commission held a watershed briefing on campus anti-Semitism. After the briefing, the Commission announced that anti-Semitism had become a “serious problem” on many college campuses.

The Commission adopted the so-called EUMC Working Definition of Anti-Semitism to help universities identify the lines between hateful and non-hateful incidents. Later, the State Department adopted its own definition based closely on this model.

As with any standard, the State Department definition should be used judiciously. One must consider context. Moreover, one must recognize that some incidents that meet the definition of anti-Semitism (or of racism or sexism) may also be constitutionally protected free speech.

To say that an incident is hateful is not necessarily to conclude that it must be banned. In some cases, the First Amendment requires public universities to permit bigoted speech. Even then, however, it is important to recognize this speech for what it is.

Anti-Israel activists are wrong when they charge that such definitions threaten free speech. Freedom flourishes best when rules are clearly articulated and terms are well-understood. Universities have many tools to ensure that their campuses remain safe and inclusive, while respecting everyone’s civil liberties.

The correct response to bigotry is never to let it pass in silence. As the Civil Rights Commission correctly admonished, “Silence is an ally of hate.”

Kenneth L. Marcus is president of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law ( and former staff director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. This year, Oxford University Press will publish his next book, “The Definition of Anti-Semitism.”

The opinions presented by Algemeiner bloggers are solely theirs and do not represent those of The Algemeiner, its publishers or editors. If you would like to share your views with a blog post on The Algemeiner, please be in touch through our Contact page.

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  • Steve Wisch

    September 2, 2015

    There are many problems with the notion, while important, a clear definition of anti-Semitism will ameliorate the primal struggle, essentially between extreme factions, of the struggle between Israel and those who oppose Israel as a Jewish State.

    While it may be possible to use “words” to define “anti-Semitism” in a manner that delimits it to those who promote Judaism as a Religion and/or Faith and/or Culture, the core logical conundrum with such an approach is that it diminishes, and may ignore, the visceral nature of Hatred and Evil that cannot be confined to anti-Semitism any more than it can be confined or delimited to anti-Judaism.

    Rather, whether through the study of History, personal observation or experience, the disdain of true anti-Semitism is a form of unrelenting Hatred, which has a primary characteristic that is visceral. Whether a young Jewish child is taunted or bullied in a largely secular American public school or highly-organized movements such as Hamas seek the total destruction of Israel, the common characteristic is a visceral hatred that has few boundaries. This has been True throughout History. Anti-semitism of epic proportions virtually neutered a flourishing Golden Jewish Era in The Spanish and Porttuguese Inquisitions, which spread to Mexico and other Spanish-American colonies. There was no Zionism that spawned The Holocaust; nor did Zionism spark the pogroms that were beatified by The Catholic Church and were a form of sport for Russian Tsars and Stalin.

    Extremism is a sort of glue that holds the Hatred that proliferates what some might choose to parse in splitting anti-Semitism from anti-Zionism. And at the root of the Extremists (the Egyptians who killed Sadat, the crazed Jewish maniac Yigal Amir who believed he had received a religious sanction to kill Yitzhak Rabin is the hard, cold Fear and Ignorance that are the common threads of the garment of both anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism.

    Even Historic Hatreds. like the continuing struggle between israel, the need for a resolution that is Fair to both israel and Palestinians, can be solved. An unpopular President by the name of Jimmy Carter, through sheer Will, and deep Prayer, was more stubborn than Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin and brokered a Peace Agreement between Israel and Egypt that still stands. There is much anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism in Egypt, but that is Human Nature – there is a Peace Treaty.

    Let no informed person believe there was not a solution close to being born of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian People. Another U.S. President, Bill Clinton, with a brilliant mind and also a strong stubborn streak came within a whisker of brokering an agreement.

    Understanding an End Stage and Final Status Agreement of the competing claims of Israel and The Palestinian People is not difficult. The pieces to the solution are well known but very, very hard to implement.

    Perhaps, a study of the nature of Extremism or Fanaticism that can destroy a People, Nation or Culture from within, seeped in Hatred and Spite, and how to meet those challenges is worth studying.

    Israel has now been a bona fide Nation for 67 years. It may be, as the late Bob Simon of 60 Minutes (and confidante of Rabin) said in an interview that the “window for a two-state solution has closed,” and Time has passed it by. But anti-Semitism, anti-Judaism, and the anti-Immigration extremists in American are all bounded by a visceral Hatred that fears Life with those who are different than they are and, just as shrewd Stalin, Russian Tsars and Machiavelli himself understood, Hatred of a Common Enemy is a primary tool of Political Unity.

    Definitions aside, and internal conflicts notwithstanding, there can be no israel without The Jewish People. And The Jewish People can no longer be authentic without Israel. At the same time, those who love Palestine, with complete devotion and sincerity have every Right to their Quest. But as Sadat, Rabin, Yasser Arafat (who backed out of the Camp David Accords because he correctly believed he would be killed by his own People), Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, too – there will be nothing but Blood and more Blood without compromise on all sides.

    And, if there is enough Blood, I submit with the greatest respect to distinguished scholars, defining “Anti-semitism vs. Anti-Judaism” or “Xenophobia” will, on a practical level, be meaningless.


    WELL SAID!!! 🙂

  • Simone Miller

    I see a rising tide of hatred in the US and I feel that a lot of it is caused by the influx of arab/muslims (include iranians) they are taking advantage of our laws to spew hatred of the Jews and Israel. It must be stopped. The best thing is to remove them all from the US before it is too late.

  • barney wainer

    Clear thinking is a prerequisite here. There’s no such thing as Semitism hence there can’t be an Anti-Semitism. There IS however, a mindset of anti-Judaism and anti-Jewish/ness which is properly expressed in one word – Antisemitism.

  • Julian Clovelley

    It is enormously difficult to define antisemitism when so much else surrounding the issue is so ill defined including the very identity of a Jew

    On that basis it is perhaps better to oppose racist behaviour per se rather than single out antisemitism as a specific form.

    Racism is found in all cultures including Jewish culture. Racism is the real issue, whoever it is directed against. On this basis I rather like the simple definition of “prejudice” as “an opinion not based on reason”

    Antisemitism in common with all forms of racism finds its source in unconsidered and unreasoned perception, and in prejudice. These are passed within families and within communities and between generations

    What is important is for the victim group never to fuel those misconceptions with false perceptions of their own about themsleves

    Zionism is such a false perception – and a particularly appalling one at that. I do not think antisemitism will ever die until Zionism is abandoned. In this I find myself somewhat in concord with those who considered Zionism an error from the moment of its birth. It is rather like throwing a gallon of nitro-methane on a glowing ember

  • steven L

    By his words and actions our President has made the Jewish/Israel condition more difficult.

  • Carlos Decourcy Lascoutx

    cemmitl(Nauatl)=measure of longitude/from one elbow to the other hand,=ISBN 968-23-0573/Nauatl/Mexicana/Rémi Simeón,
    found on p.80,=cemitta/ocemittac(N)=look/examine someone from all sides,=Nitla-cemitta=to be atent, much given over
    to something,=cen itta=center look/mirror,=cemithualtin=
    a family,=cemya(Russ)=family/pamitl=flag, i.e., those of
    the same house,=cemitoa/ocemito=uterine children, those
    from the same womb,=semilla(Sp)=seed.
    only goys can be called anti-semites(if they are), but
    other semites are cousins no matter how they behave.

  • CGG

    In Mr. Marcus’ attempt to maintain some semblance of neutrality, he nearly excuses much of what constitutes anti-Semitism as open-dialogue and freedom of speech. I’m comfortable with venturing my opinion that most of what’s happening on US campuses is indeed Jew hatred. Jews should not be quick to appease those who claim that their hatred of Israel is constructive criticism. Most of it stems from ignorance and the desire to conform to fashion. It is de rigueur to condemn Israel and, by extension, Jews for all the world’s ills.

  • Emanuel

    Affirmative acts or omissions which result in causing Jewish students to be uncomfortable because of their heritage. It goes beyond basic insensitivity or selfishness it (1)targets (2) Jewish individuals (3) with intent to (4) cause discomfort or insult (4) based on their cultural background.