On Dec. 1, a bipartisan bill proposed by Senators Bob Casey and Tim Scott, and supported by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) was passed unanimously through Senate. The “Antisemitism Awareness Act” deems criticisms of Israel as anti-semitic, and will be soon considered by the U.S. House of Representatives. If passed there, it would just await the president's signature before becoming law.
Organized by the advocacy group Jewish Voice for Peace, the scholars’ statement has already been signed by academics from New York University, Penn State University, Brown University, Stanford University, UCLA and more.
“As scholars of Jewish studies, we strongly object to ‘the Antisemitism Awareness Act’ which is soon to be considered by the U.S. House of Representatives,” the statement begins. “This bill would officially categorize as antisemitic ‘demonization,’ ‘de-legitimation’ and ‘the use of double standard’ regarding Israel. This intentionally vague definition is dangerously susceptible to manipulations, and threatens to further diminish freedom of speech and academic freedom on our campuses.”
It discusses the ramifications of an incoming Trump presidency that is already mired in white supremacy, with notable white supremacists being named to U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s administration.
“This bill fails to confront the real threats facing Jews in America. Instead, this bill poses a threat to human rights advocates, scholars, and students. It is no coincidence that many of these students are Muslim and/or people of color, and are facing similar targeting from a resurgent far-right,” it reads.
“American Jews do not need protection from passionate young activists organizing for justice. Rather, we need to join with justice-seeking people everywhere to fight white supremacy, racism and the genuine antisemitism that are reemerging in the very highest levels of government.”
The letter by Jewish students starts with a similar condemnation of the bill, and also addresses concerns about the incoming presidency.
“We are Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist, and secular Jews; and we are deeply concerned about the rise of real anti-Semitism in white supremacist movements in this country, including the appointment of real anti-Semites like Stephen Bannon to powerful positions in the upcoming Trump administration. But this bill does little to protect us, as Jewish students, from these dangers. Rather, it serves to limit our freedom of expression around the vital issues of our time,” it says.
“Regardless of our personal political views, we recognize that criticism of Israel and support for Palestinian rights, including support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, is not inherently anti-Semitic. The Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, however, conflates legitimate criticism of the policies of the Israeli government with anti-Semitism,” it adds.
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