Lawmakers Reintroduce Federal Bill Aimed at Censoring Palestine Advocacy on Campuses

Photo: Joe Catron

Photo: Joe Catron

Yesterday, members of Congress announced the reintroduction of the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act (ASAA), a bill aimed at censoring Palestine advocacy on college campuses by imposing on the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) a widely-criticized and overbroad re-definition of antisemitism that classifies virtually all speech critical of Israel as antisemitic. If enacted, it would be used to justify investigations against Palestine activists on campus while adding no new legal protections for Jewish students, who are already covered under federal anti-discrimination laws.

The bill, backed by the Brandeis Center and the Anti-Defamation League, is part of a broader effort to censor Palestine advocacy on college campuses, in violation of the First Amendment. Kenneth Marcus, head of the Brandeis Center and President Trump’s nominee to head the DOE’s Office for Civil Rights, has for years promoted a strategy to abuse civil rights law to suppress campus criticism of Israel, alleging that activism for Palestinian rights creates an antisemitic climate for Jewish students, in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The DOE has repeatedly dismissed complaints based on Marcus’ strategy, affirming that advocacy for Palestinian rights is protected by the First Amendment.

The ASAA would codify Marcus’ strategy and enable his agenda at the DOE by requiring the agency to equate campus advocacy on Palestine with antisemitism. It will lead to increased scrutiny, investigation, censorship, and possible punishment for students and academics who promote Palestinian rights. Such actions would violate the First Amendment and free speech principles.

A substantially similar version of the ASAA was defeated in 2016 due to First Amendment concerns, after numerous civil rights and civil liberties organizations, including Palestine Legal, raised constitutional concern. Kenneth Stern, the original author of the definition of antisemitism endorsed by the bill, also publicly opposed the bill in a New York Times Op-Ed and in testimony to Congress.

“As Israel guns down peaceful protesters in Gaza and eyes full annexation of the West Bank, it is no surprise that Israel’s allies in the U.S., like the Brandeis Center and the A.D.L., would step up efforts to undermine the growing movement for Palestinian rights here,” said Palestine Legal staff attorney Rahul Saksena. “Now is the time for our politicians to prioritize our constitutional rights by rejecting this bill.”

There have also been efforts to enact the ASAA at the state level. This month, South Carolina became the first state to adopt the overbroad re-definition of antisemitism endorsed by the ASAA. Palestine Legal will be closely monitoring its implementation for First Amendment violations.

Take action:

Contact your members of Congress. Urge them not to support the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act. Click here to take action, via Arab American Institute.

For further information, see the following: 

On the reintroduction of the ASAA:

  • ACLU statement on the reintroduction of the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act
  • Jewish Voice for Peace statement on reintroduced ASAA
  • Defending Rights and Dissent statement

On the previous version of the ASAA: