It might now be a civil rights violation to call Israel “racist” in Florida. A new law imposes a definition of antisemitism on the state’s public schools that classifies advocacy for Palestinian human rights as discrimination against Jews.
For years, Israel advocates have made it a lobbying priority to codify a redefinition of antisemitism that brands virtually all criticism of Israel as antisemitic. A similar bill is now pending in the U.S. Congress. Last August, Trump’s Department of Education also announced that it was using the redefinition.
This backgrounder from Palestine Legal describes the redefinition effort and its impact in detail.
Florida Governor DeSantis signed the antisemitism bill – HB 741 – while on an official trip to Israel. The bill is said to be the first piece of Florida legislation signed on foreign soil.
“The fact that Gov. DeSantis signed this bill during his trip to Israel underscores that this is more about demonstrating that Florida is ‘pro-Israel’ than it is about protecting the civil rights of Jewish Americans,” said Palestine Legal senior staff attorney Liz Jackson. “This law violates the First Amendment and will be challenged.”
Used as a tool to censor advocacy for Palestinian freedom, the redefinition chills free speech rights and suppresses badly needed debate about U.S. and Israeli policies that abuse Palestinian rights.
For example, applying a “double standard” to Israel by investigating only Israel for human rights abuses would violate Florida’s new definition of antisemitism.
Using similar redefinitions of antisemitism, Israel advocates have tried to censor the following campus activities:
A panel at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in May 2019 planned to discuss censorship of speech supporting Palestinian rights and was targeted with a lawsuit demanding that the court order the university to cancel the event. The Israel advocates who brought the suit argued that the panelists’ criticism of Israel and its policies constituted antisemitism under the redefinition. The court rejected the arguments.
Harvard students put on an event series called Israeli Apartheid Week, during which they educated their peers about Israel’s application of different sets of laws to Palestinians and Jewish Israelis. The programming faced censorship attempts as professor and former Harvard University president Larry Summers cited the redefinition to label educational activities at Harvard antisemitic.
A November 2018 vigil organized by Jewish students at UC Berkeley to jointly mourn the deaths of Palestinian children killed in Gaza and Jewish people killed in the Pittsburgh massacre became the subject of a federal civil rights complaint which argued the vigil was antisemitic under the redefinition.
Palestine Legal’s Backgrounder on Efforts to Redefine Antisemitism as a Means of Censoring Criticism of Israel provides a full explanation of the redefinition and its history. The resource breaks down the redefinition’s different names, where it has been deployed, and its constitutional flaws.
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