Media Spotlight: "Anti-Semitism Awareness Act" Draws Criticism in the Media

Earlier this month, the U.S. Senate passed, by unanimous consent and before the bill’s language was even public, the controversial and unconstitutional Anti-Semitism Awareness Act. Rather than addressing the terrifying antisemitic and other hateful attacks that have characterized the weeks since the presidential election, the bill threatened to impose on the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) a definition of antisemitism so broad that it would encompass virtually any criticism of Israel, and thereby justify DOE investigations into Palestine advocacy.

A companion bill failed to pass the House during the last session of the year, after opponents voiced significant concerns about the bill. Palestine Legal, together with other rights groups, sent a letter to members of Congress outlining First Amendment concerns with the bill.

The bill was also exposed to significant opposition in the media. Below are several media results that voiced or echoed Palestine Legal’s position on the bill.

Palestine Legal attorney Liz Jackson published an Op-Ed in the LA Times, saying, “This sets up a blatant violation of student and faculty members’ 1st Amendment rights. As Trump might have learned last week when he called for jailing flag burners, the right to criticize a government — the U.S., Israeli or any other government — is enshrined in the Constitution. Congress can’t legislate that away.” (December 6, 2016)

The LA Times also published an editorial echoing First Amendment concerns about the bill, citing its “overly broad definition of anti-Semitism” which “would blur the distinction between acts of intolerance directed at individuals and criticism of the state of Israel.” (December 6, 2016)

The Intercept’s Alex Emmons quoted Jackson saying “Student activists for Palestinian rights already operate in a repressive environment. If this bill passes, they will face the specter of federal investigation simply for engaging in criticism of the Israeli government’s abusive policies.”

In the Washington Post, Tana Ganeva’s piece, “How legitimate fear over bias-motivated crimes is generating potentially unconstitutional policies,” noted that the bill “claims, almost as an afterthought, that this doesn’t constitute an infringement of free speech.” (December 7, 2016)

In New York Magazine, Jesse Singal offered bold criticism of the bill, calling it a “Free-Speech Mess.” (December 7, 2016)

Haaretz’s Asher Schechter contextualized the bill and noted that it “does not mention the recent surge in hate crimes across the United States. It does not include the words ‘alt-right’ or ‘white supremacy.’ It does, however, encourage universities to use a controversial definition of anti-Semitism, and has been widely criticized by free speech advocates and civil rights groups as violating the First Amendment.” (December 10, 2016)

The Forward’s Josh Nathan-Kazis wrote, “While the bill explicitly says that its provisions do not infringe upon First Amendment rights, Palestine Legal’s Jackson doesn’t buy it. ‘That line at the end was shoehorned in, and everything else about the bill is clearly an attack on First Amendment rights,’ Jackson said. ‘To stick in a rhetorical nod basically saying, ‘Oh, yeah and the First Amendment,’ cannot save an unconstitutional bill.’” (December 5, 2016)

Inside Higher Ed reported, “The bill has attracted criticism from groups including Palestine Legal and Jewish Voice for Peace, who say the proposed definition of anti-Semitism wrongly conflates any criticism of Israel with anti-Jewish sentiments.” (December 2, 2016)’s Anthony L. Fisher wrote that the bill’s mention of the First Amendment was “Seemingly shoe-horned into the end of the senators' statement.” (December 1, 2016)

The Electronic Intifada’s Charlotte Silver wrote “On Thursday the United States Senate quietly passed a bill that civil rights groups warn may be used to limit the free speech rights of college students expressing support for Palestinian rights.” (December 4, 2016)

NY Post’s Jacob Sullum wrote that the bill was “Congress’ rotten idea for fighting anti-Semitism.” (December 8, 2016)