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May 16, 2017 4:04 pm

South Carolina Democrat Stalls Antisemitism Bill

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avatar by Paul Miller / JNS.org

The South Carolina State House. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

JNS.org – South Carolina House Bill 3643, which would see the southern state adopt the US State Department’s definition of antisemitism, was on the cusp of passage last week —  but was stalled by a Democratic lawmaker on the final day of the state’s legislative session. The bill’s adoption is now delayed until at least January 9, 2018, the legislature’s next session.

Sources working closely with a bipartisan group of South Carolina legislators told the Haym Salomon Center that State Senator Brad Hutto (D-Orangeburg) was the “lone obstacle” to getting the measure passed, and had been “targeted and influenced by anti-Israel professors and Students for Justice in Palestine.” A letter sent to Hutto, shared on Twitter, supports the sources’ claims. Hutto offered up a last-minute “objection” to the bill, a procedural maneuver that prevented the measure from being brought to a vote.

“We are deeply disappointed that Sen. Hutto chose to block H. 3643,” said David Brog, the founding executive director and a current board member of Christians United for Israel. “This legislation would have clearly defined antisemitism and hate speech without limiting anyone’s right to free speech. The bill deserved an up-or-down vote. Though we do not believe Sen. Hutto holds antisemitic views, his action has helped those who do.”

Introduced in February by State Representative Alan Clemmons (R-Myrtle Beach), and taken up by the South Carolina Senate last month, the measure responds to a rising tide of antisemitism nationwide, especially on college campuses. The original bill had 115 co-sponsors and passed the state’s House of Representatives 103-3. South Carolina’s five-member Higher Education Senate Subcommittee unanimously approved it on April 27.

In a March 9 speech to the South Carolina House, Clemmons said, “[US] Senator [Tim] Scott encouraged me, along with Senator [Lindsey] Graham, as you can see in the letter on your desk, to move this bill forward in South Carolina — to give our educators a tool for defining antisemitism, to take the guesswork out of it, have a uniform definition, which is where we must start to push back on antisemitic behavior or any type of bigotry.”

Anti-Israel advocates claim that the bill suppresses free speech and their right to criticize the Jewish state.

According to the State Department’s definition, “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

Caroline Nagel, an associate professor of geography at the University of South Carolina, criticized the bill. In March, she told the Post and Courier that, “This language would shut down legitimate debate on South Carolina campuses about policies of the state of Israel and would equate criticism of Israel with anti-Jewish racism.”

According to The State, a newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina, “The Orangeburg Democrat (Hutto) echoed free-speech concerns voiced by college groups and pro-Palestine advocates that the State Department definition could be interpreted to punish on-campus criticism of Israel. He also said the bill infringes on academic freedom and micromanages colleges.”

Kenneth L. Marcus, president of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, said that evidence continues “to show an alarming increase in antisemitism on our Nation’s college campuses. [The South Carolina bill would] attack this rapidly spreading virus and protect Jewish students from rising hate. The bill enjoys widespread bipartisan support in both chambers. Shamefully, however, one legislator has fallen for a completely false mischaracterization of the bill, and is standing in the way of giving Jewish students the protections they need and deserve.”

Marcus said that the South Carolina bill “does not restrict speech. That is completely false. It is shameful that one legislator cannot see through the spin to protect his constituents. We hope that his colleagues will open his eyes to the truth about the bill, and encourage him to do the right thing.”

Representative Clemmons told the Haym Salomon Center: “All Brad [Hutto] did … was empower the voice of Jew-haters on South Carolina campuses, unfortunately. Our bill that defines antisemitism, would have given administrators an important tool — [a] uniform definition for antisemitism, so they can treat discriminatory acts against Jews just as they would against any other minority. Unfortunately, the [State] Senate has robbed South Carolina of that ability.”

Hutto did not return calls for comment.

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