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December 4, 2016 5:59 am

Human Rights Expert Says Unanimous Passage of Senate Antisemitism Bill Will Have ‘Ripple Effect’ on US Campuses

avatar by Lea Speyer

The US Capitol building. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The US Capitol building. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

A newly passed US Senate bill advancing the fight against antisemitism will have a “ripple effect” on educational institutions, the head of a Jewish human rights organization told The Algemeiner on Friday.

Kenneth Marcus — president and general counsel at the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law — was referring to the unanimous passage on Thursday of the bipartisan Antisemitism Awareness Act of 2016, which identifies the phenomenon as a “persistent, disturbing problem in elementary and secondary schools and on college campuses.” It also demands that the Department of Education take into consideration the definition of antisemitism set forth by the State Department and its Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism.

According to the bill:

Awareness of this definition of antisemitism will increase understanding of the parameters of contemporary anti-Jewish conduct and will assist the Department of Education in determining whether an investigation of antisemitism under Title VI [of the Civil Rights Act of 1964] is warranted.

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“At every university, the general counsel will need to advise the administration on this new federal guidance,” Marcus told The Algemeiner. “And university policy will need to be revised to reflect it.” 

The Antisemitism Awareness Act has faced criticism from members of the anti-Israel movement, which accuses it of hindering freedom of speech.

Rejecting this claim, Marcus said that the authors of the bill — Sens. Bob Casey (D-PA) and Tim Scott (R-SC) — “were very smart” in their wording, to avoid infringing on any rights.

“The First Amendment protects a lot of antisemitic speech, just as it protects lots of racist, sexist and homophobic speech. This bill wouldn’t change that. The point is that some activities are not constitutionally protected, and this bill would help the Department of Education identify which of them are antisemitic,” he said.

As Jewish students have become increasingly vulnerable targets on college campuses, Marcus said, “It’s about time the government take action.”

“Some of us have been pointing out for several years that antisemitic incidents are surging and need to be addressed. Over the last couple of years, the levels have become so unacceptable that Congress is beginning to take notice,” he added.

According to a recently published FBI Hate Crime Statistic Report, 2015 saw a major spike in antisemitism in the US, with Jew-hatred accounting for 51.3 percent of  all victims targeted due to religious bias. A total of 664 antisemitic incidents were recorded.

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