House puts off action on controversial anti-Semitism bill

Andrew Silow-Carroll

(JTA) — The House of Representatives delayed action on a bill targeting campus anti-Semitism until 2017, putting off action on a measure that had been backed by mainstream Jewish groups, criticized by civil libertarians and passed unanimously by the Senate on Dec. 1.

Jewish Insider reported Friday, citing an anonymous congressional staff official, that Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Virginia), chairman of the House Committee on the Judiciary, opposed  “rushing” the bill through the House without adequate study.

The bill outlined 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 standards and delegitimization.

The act billed itself as a tool “to help identify contemporary manifestations of anti-Semitism, and includes useful examples of discriminatory anti-Israel conduct that crosses the line into anti-Semitism.”

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The Anti-Defamation League, which 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?”

Critics of the bill included Michael Macleod-Ball, chief of staff of the American Civil Liberties Union’s legislative office in Washington, who told The Forward that the bill could impinge on the free-speech rights of critics of Israel. The act “opens the door to considering anti-Israel political statements and activities as possible grounds for civil rights investigations,” he said.

Kenneth Stern, who as the American Jewish Committee’s former specialist on anti-Semitism and extremism wrote  a similar definition of anti-Semitism later adopted by the Department of State, told The Forward that the congressional version is “both unconstitutional and unwise.”

A number of left-wing and pro-Palestinian groups had criticized the legislation.