Bill would define anti-Semitism on South Carolina campuses
Seanna AdcoxTri City Herald
February 22, 2017
Supporters say a bill defining anti-Semitism for South Carolina's colleges is designed to curb a national rise of anti-Jewish bigotry on campuses. Opponents argue it could limit First Amendment rights to criticize Israel.
The bipartisan bill advanced Wednesday by a House panel would require colleges to apply the definition when deciding whether an incident or speech violates anti-discrimination policies. Penalties would depend on each college's policies.
"One must be blind to not see the ramp up in anti-Semitism in this country," said the main sponsor, Rep. Alan Clemmons, a Mormon and Republican from Myrtle Beach.
Clemmons cited vandalism discovered Monday at a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis and a recent threat against a Myrtle Beach synagogue. Authorities say the white supremacist who posted that threat on Facebook told an undercover FBI agent he wanted to buy a gun to kill "in the spirit of Dylann Roof," who has been sentenced to die for the massacre of nine people at a historic black church in Charleston.
The bill's advancement comes a day after President Donald Trump condemned recent threats against Jewish community centers nationwide as "painful reminders" of lingering prejudice and evil.
South Carolina lacks a state hate crimes law, and this bill applies only to colleges. It doesn't address hate crimes against people of other religions. Clemmons said it "takes the guesswork out" of deciding if incidents on campuses are based on anti-Jewish hatred.
The bill would require colleges to use the U.S. State Department's 2010 two-page guidelines for defining anti-Semitism abroad. Opponents say they object only to the second page, which answers the question, "What is anti-Semitism relative to Israel?" in ways that opponents say would condemn any criticism of Israel's government or its policies.
It cites what have become known as the three Ds in other debates about campus speech: Demonizing Israel, having a double standard for Israel, and delegitimizing Israel. These include, respectively, "blaming Israel for all inter-religious or political tensions," ''multilateral organizations focusing on Israel only for peace or human rights investigations" and "denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination."
The State Department guidance also specifies that "criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic," but opponents say the guidelines have been used elsewhere to stifle criticism of Israel's occupation of the Palestinian land and people.
The bill mimics federal legislation co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, which instructed the U.S. Department of Education to use the definitions when investigating reported discrimination. That bill died in the House after passing the Senate by unanimous consent in December.
Anti-Semitism is especially rampant on college campuses, said Kenneth Marcus, president of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law in Washington, who called the bill "vital and necessary" for protecting Jewish students and giving colleges the ability to fight discrimination against them.
"The point is not to censor, punish or restrict anti-Semitic speech. Anti-Semitic speech is typically protected by the First Amendment, and it should not be curbed," Marcus told the panel. However, he concluded, "Anti-Semitism deserves the same condemnation as other forms of hate."
Dana Al-Hasan, president of Students for Justice in Palestine at the University of South Carolina, agrees that "there's definitely has been a rise in hatred" against people of various races and religions. But she said the proposed law would hinder her group's ability to raise awareness about what it considers Israel's discriminatory policies.
"It would allow legitimate criticism of the state of Israel to be equated with anti-Semitism," said David Matos, president of the Carolina Peace Resource Center, and enable groups to sue universities "over supposed infractions because people are talking about Israel or Palestine in a way they don't like."
Rep. Beth Bernstein, who is Jewish, said that's ridiculous. She says opponents misunderstand the bill.
"It's actually to encourage tolerance and track brutal acts," said Bernstein, D-Columbia, who's among nearly 90 co-sponsors. "They're making it more complicated than it is."