By Andres Del Aguila
WASHINGTON – Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, on Tuesday raised concerns that groups that oppose Israel contribute to the steep rise of anti-Semitism on college campuses across the United States.
“I’m concerned about the so-called BDS movement – an effort that is boycott, divestment and sanctions seeks to end international support of Israel,” Goodlatte said during a House Judiciary hearing to examine the rise of anti-Semitism on college campuses. “I will do everything that I can to ensure that [the American and Israel] relationship remains strong. There are those who disagree in various ways of course, including students, faculty and administrators on college campuses.”
The BDS movement is a global campaign led by Palestinians “that works to end international support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and pressure Israel to comply with international law,” according to the website BDSmovement.net
Tuesday’s hearing was in response to an Anti-Defamation League (ADL) audit of anti-Semitic incidents released Thursday that shows a 67 percent increase this year. The ADL discovered 1,299 incidents across the U.S., and a “disturbingly high number” occurred at college campuses.
The audit includes criminal and non-criminal acts such as harassment, intimidation, hate propaganda, threats and slurs. The ADL found a spike after the August “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., where white nationalists clashed with counter- protesters.
ADL CEO and National Director Jonathan Greenblatt also placed the blame on “radical left-wing” groups.
“Neither side of the political spectrum is exempt from intolerance,” he said. “We’ve seen a rise of anti-Semitic rhetoric from a radical left-wing viewpoint as well, one often rooted in extremely hostile views on Israel that can cross the line to anti-Semitism.”
Greenblatt added that criticism of Israel’s government does not constitute anti-Semitism but that radical groups on college campuses can create a hostile environment for Jewish students.
The ADL also urged the House to pass the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, which would provide the Department of Education with a clear definition of anti-Semitism in order to assess if a violation of Title VI was committed with anti-Semitic intent.
Anti-Semitism is discrimination “based on an individual’s actual or perceived shared Jewish ancestry or Jewish ethnic characteristics,” according to the bill.
The Senate passed the bill with unanimous consent in December 2016.
Barry Trachtenberg, a scholar of Jewish history at Wake Forest University in North Carolina, warned against the “well-intentioned” bill.
“Attempts to legislate speech that is perceived as anti-Semitic, while seemingly well-intentioned, are in fact efforts to suppress ongoing campus discussions regarding the State of Israel and its supporters…,” Trachtenberg said. “They risk weakening the academic freedom of students and faculty who engage in criticism of Israel out of concerns for human rights and human dignity.”
He added: “Such restrictions threaten to exacerbate anti-Semitism on campus by perpetuating the long-standing myths that Jews are exceptional people who require special laws and regulations.”