By Brodie Putz
A bill that advocates say is intended to protect against anti-Semitism on college campuses drew criticism at a Senate subcommittee on higher education Thursday.
The bill, introduced by Rep. Alan D. Clemmons, R-Horry, passed the House last month by a vote of 103-3, but it continues to draw opposition from several groups.
“This bill aims to classify almost all political speech critical of Israel and Israeli government policies as anti-Semitic,” said Shaundra Scott, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of South Carolina. She said the bill “is a blatantly unconstitutional attack on individual liberties, academic freedoms, and human rights… If enacted, it would most certainly increase unwarranted government suspicion, surveillance, and investigation into the lives of Muslim and Arab students in South Carolina.”
Joseph Sabag, national director for the Israel Allies Foundation, disagreed.
“This legislation has no regulatory effect, whatsoever, on private conduct,” he said. “Folks who dislike Israel are free to do so. They’re free to hate Israel and are free to express that hatred in a number of ways. What they are not entitled to do is engage in activities that are unprotected. I’m talking about vandalism, assault and battery, and the suppression of others’ rights… This bill is not an attempt to litigate the conflict between Israel and her opponents. This bill is about providing basic protection to students on campuses.”
If passed, the bill would adopt the definition of anti-Semitism set forth by the U.S. State Department in 2010. This definition includes, “calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews, making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews, accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoings committed by an individual or group, and accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel than to their own nation.”
The definition stipulates that any criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against another country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic. But Palestine Legal, an independent Palestinian advocacy group, did not find this satisfactory.
In a public statement, issued April 20, the organization said that this definition of anti-Semitism conflates anti-Semitism with criticism of Israel in an attempt to censor speech.
“The definition is so broadly drawn that any speech critical of Israel could conceivably fall within it,” the statement noted. “It brands critics of Israel and advocates for Palestinian human rights as anti-Semitic by blurring the important distinction between criticism of Israel as a nation-state and anti-Semitism.”
The Senate subcommittee failed to reach a consensus on the bill, moving to reconvene on the subject at a later date.