Bill aimed at censoring Palestine advocacy on campuses fails to pass U.S. House

In a victory for Palestine solidarity and free speech activists, the U.S. House of Representatives wrapped up its 2016 legislative session without passing the controversial and unconstitutional Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, despite intense lobbying by Israel advocacy groups. The failed bill threatened to impose on the U.S. Department of Education a definition of antisemitism that is so broad it would encompass virtually any criticism of Israel. The bill would be used to justify investigations against Palestine activists on campus, while adding no new legal protections for Jewish students.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Senate passed the bill quickly, unanimously, and without debate. If re-introduced in the next Congress, the bill would have to pass the House and re-pass the Senate.

Last week, Palestine Legal coordinated a coalition letter to members of Congress outlining First Amendment concerns with the bill and urging Congress to take meaningful steps to combat rising incidents of antisemitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of racism and discrimination.

In an L.A. Times op-ed, Palestine Legal Staff Attorney Liz Jackson wrote that the definition of antisemitism endorsed by the bill is

“highly controversial because it conflates criticism of Israeli policies with anti-Jewish hatred, shutting down debate by suggesting that anyone who looks critically at Israeli policy is somehow beyond the pale. It has no place on college campuses in particular, where we need students to engage in a vigorous exchange of ideas — especially around our world’s most intractable problems, such as Israel's nearly 50-year military occupation of Palestine.

The L.A. Times also editorialized against the bill, noting that despite being called the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, “[t]his legislation is really about something else entirely: Israel.” 

The ACLU and FIRE opposed the bill. So did Kenneth Stern, the original author of the antisemitism definition used in the bill, who sent a letter to lawmakers stating that the bill is both “unconstitutional and unwise.”

“People across the country are fed-up with the status quo on Israel and Palestine, and the political establishment should take note,” said Palestine Legal Director Dima Khalidi. “Congress cannot plug its ears and punish people who voice dissent. We will continue to monitor and vigorously oppose this bill and any others that trample on our constitutional rights to advocate for Palestinian freedom.”

Stay tuned for further updates on Palestine Legal’s website, Facebook page, and Twitter. If this bill is reintroduced in the next Congress, we will collectively mobilize to prevent this dangerous bill from becoming law.