Open Hillel Opposes the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act

June 19, 2018

As Jewish students, academics, and community members, we understand the importance of combating anti-Semitism. However, the “Anti-Semitism Awareness Act,” introduced to Congress last month, does nothing to improve upon existing federal legislation that protects Jewish students from discrimination or harassment. Instead, the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act mis-classifies criticism of Israel as anti-Semitism and directs the Department of Education to investigate and suppress free and open discourse on campus. 

The “Anti-Semitism Awareness Act” includes much of the same language that Hillel has used for years to shut down critical discourse around Israel. In 2010, Hillel International barred the so-called “3 Ds” -- delegitimization, demonization, and applying a double standard to Israel -- as part of its Standards of Partnership for Israel Activities. This policy does not protect Jewish students. Rather, the Standards intimidate and silence both Jewish and non-Jewish students, professors, and activists and stifle crucial conversations on Israel/Palestine on campus. 

We are disturbed that such speech restrictions could now become codified as US law.

The introduction of the “Anti-Semitism Awareness Act” comes on the heels of the Senate’s confirmation of Trump nominee Kenneth Marcus to lead the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. Jewish students across the country opposed Marcus’s confirmation, as Marcus seeks to undermine key civil rights protections for victims of sexual assault, trans students and communities of color. Moreover, Marcus has a long track record of suing universities and student activists for exercising their right to free speech and shutting down vital student voices. 

As Jewish students, we are concerned by the uptick in legislative activity at the state and federal level that conflates critique of Israel with anti-Semitism. Rather than using our safety as a tool to silence criticism of Israel, we urge Members of Congress to listen to the voices of Jewish students, reject the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, and uphold students’ rights to freely discuss issues of local, national, and international concern.