WASHINGTON (JTA) — A bipartisan slate of leading House members introduced a bill that would expand how the Department of Education defines anti-Semitism in advising learning institutions on how to identify discrimination.
The bill introduced Friday by Reps. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., and Ted Deutch, D-Fla., replicates a similar bill passed last week by the Senate, which was sponsored by Sens. Tim Scott, R-S.C., and Bob Casey, D-Pa.
Senior House of Representatives members including Reps. Eliot Engel and Nita Lowey, both D-N.Y., and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., are backing the bill.
The measure expands previous guidelines sent periodically to educational institutions receiving federal funding to define anti-Semitism according to a definition first published by the State Department in 2010.
It adopts the definition set forth by the European Parliament Working Group on Anti-Semitism: “Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
Both definitions also outline when criticism of Israel crosses into anti-Semitism, citing the “three D’s” first advanced by Natan Sharansky, the Israeli politician and former prisoner of the Soviet gulag: Demonization, double standard and delegitimization.
The Anti-Defamation League, which has led lobbying for the legislation, said the bill, should it become law, “addresses a core concern of Jewish and pro-Israel students and parents: When does the expression of anti-Semitism, anti-Israel sentiment and anti-Zionist beliefs cross the line from First Amendment-protected free expression to unlawful discriminatory conduct?”
A number of left-wing and pro-Palestinian groups have criticized the legislation, saying the Israel-related language is too vague and would inhibit debate on campus about Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.
“It mis-classifies criticism of Israel as anti-Semitism and aims to ensure that the Department of Education will investigate and suppress criticism of Israel on campus,” said a statement by Open Hillel, a loose network of campus groups that rejects restrictions on engagement with other students that exist under the aegis of the more established Jewish student umbrella, Hillel.