On January 11, 2019 the U.S. House of Representatives passed HR 221, “Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism Act,” resurfacing a highly contested definition of antisemitism that wrongly equates advocacy for Palestinian rights with antisemitism.
The bill requires the President to appoint a Special Envoy for Anti-Semitism within 90 days, a position which Trump has left empty since taking office.
Supporters of HR 221 are right to demand that the President immediately fill the position. The U.S. government must address rising racism, ethno-nationalism and white supremacy, including antisemitism, around the globe and at home.
But the sponsor of HR 221, Republican Chris Smith of New Jersey, was clear that one of the primary motivations of the bill is to suppress advocacy for Palestinian rights by labeling it antisemitic. In his press release and statement on the House floor, Smith named the movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) and “targeting the State of Israel with the three D’s --- demonization, double-standard, and delegitimization” as “the most pernicious examples of… the new anti-Semitism.”
Unfortunately, efforts to confront antisemitism have been overshadowed by attempts to conflate criticism of Israel with hatred of Jewish people in order to undermine a growing movement for Palestinian human rights. Israel advocacy groups actively promote a redefinition of antisemitism that labels criticism of Israel as antisemitic. Israel advocates have run failed campaigns to adopt such a definition in state legislatures, at universities, and through Congressional legislation seeking to impose the redefinition on the Department of Education (DOE). The State Department began using the definition to identify antisemitic incidents in foreign countries in 2010 and Trump’s DOE declared it would use such a definition in August, 2018.
We reject such attempts to label advocacy for Palestinian freedom and equality as inherently antisemitic.
We call on lawmakers everywhere to combat antisemitism alongside all systems of racism. We also call on them to recognize that efforts to hold Israel accountable to international law through boycott and divestment campaigns and other tactics are principled human rights activism aimed at equality for all people. Such principled advocacy is protected by the First Amendment, and must be emphatically distinguished from threats to Jewish communities around the world.