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January 25, 2017 11:53 am

Legal Expert: Virginia Motion to Recognize Antisemitism as Unlawful Discrimination Aims to ‘Get Ahead’ of Jew-Haters at State-Funded Universities

avatar by Lea Speyer

Antisemitic graffiti found at a popular apartment complex inhabited by UVA students. Photo: UVA.

Antisemitic graffiti found at a popular apartment complex inhabited by UVA students. Photo: UVA.

The head of a legal NGO supporting a Virginia motion to recognize antisemitism as an unlawful form of discrimination explained to The Algemeiner on Wednesday why it was proposed and what it aims to achieve.

Kenneth Marcus, president and general counsel at the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law (LDB), said that Bill 2261, put before the Virginia House of Delegates earlier this month, aims to “get ahead of antisemites,” particularly on campuses, where they have been causing Jewish students distress.

“We need to be as agile and adaptive as our enemies are if we are to defeat antisemitism once and for all,” he said. “And too little is being done to address the problem on the state or federal level.”

The bill, Marcus said – which also demands that Virginia schools adopt the State Department definition of antisemitism, including certain forms of anti-Zionism – “would not outlaw the phenomenon; it would merely provide tools for the state’s public universities to use when applying their existing codes of conduct. For example, if someone assaults a Jewish student or vandalizes a Hillel building, it will provide helpful examples to assist in determining whether the nature of the incident was antisemitic.”

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Daniel Davies, a legislative assistant to Delegate Dave LaRock, who co-sponsored the bill, told The Algemeiner that it was born after Virginia lawmakers became aware of antisemitic organizations operating on campuses funded by the state.

“In October, Delegate LaRock was alerted to the fact that the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) national conference was to be held at Virginia’s George Mason University. He, together with other legislators, called on the school to pull out, but those concerns were not heeded,” Davies recounted. “Since then, Delegate LaRock has been working with different organizations to formulate legislation that will address antisemitism generally, but especially the issue of anti-Jewish groups, like SJP, having access to facilities paid for with tax dollars.”

According to Marcus, “Virginia is by no means the worst state when it comes to campus antisemitism. But because it prides itself on being the cradle of religious liberty, it makes sense for the Commonwealth to take the lead in dealing with this problem. As a Virginia resident, I am proud that the legislature is being proactive.”

As The Algemeiner reported in October, Jewish students at the University of Virginia were left “horrified” after an orange Star of David and the word “Juden” (German for Jews) were found spray-painted on a student housing building. At the College of William and Mary in November, the words “Go Trump,” with a swastika replacing the letter “T,” was scrawled in a bathroom.

HB 2261’s call on public Virginia universities to adopt the State Department’s definition of antisemitism is similar to that of a stalled bipartisan Congressional bill, the Antisemitism Awareness Act, which was first brought to the Senate in early December and passed unanimously. An identical motion in the House failed to pass due to scheduling issues.

— Rachel Frommer contributed to this report.

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