New York, NY, May 23, 2018 … The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) today welcomed House and Senate introduction of the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act (ASAA), legislation which provides important guidance for the Department of Education and the Department of Justice for federal anti-discrimination investigations involving anti-Semitism, including on college campuses. The Senate approved a slightly different version of this legislation by unanimous consent in December 2016.
“At a time of rising incidents of anti-Semitism, this legislation addresses a core concern of Jewish and pro-Israel students and parents: When does the expression of anti-Semitism, anti-Israel and anti-Zionist sentiments cross the line from First Amendment-protected free expression to harassing, unlawful, discriminatory conduct?” said Jonathan Greenblatt, ADL CEO. “While most incidents of anti-Semitism on campus are unrelated to anti-Israel activity, the Departments of Education and Justice should have the authority to investigate instances in which anti-Israel activity crosses the line to targeted, unlawful, discriminatory intimidation and harassment of Jewish students.”
ADL applauded the leadership of House sponsors Reps. Peter Roskam (R-IL), Ted Deutch (D-FL), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), and Doug Collins (R-GA), and Senate sponsors Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) and Bob Casey (D-PA).”
The legislation builds on an important Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) October 2010 Dear Colleague letter to all schools which described their responsibilities to prevent and remedy instances of discriminatory harassment, including, in some circumstances, harassment on the basis of religion. ADL and a dozen other Jewish groups had urged such OCR action to help protect Jewish students from anti-Semitic harassment, intimidation and discrimination in a March 2010 letter. The legislation is crafted in a way that is attentive to the need to protect political speech. It is essential to accurately distinguish protected speech – including disagreement and even harsh criticism of the government of Israel – from harassing, intimidating, and discriminatory anti-Semitism.
This legislation uses a 2010 definition of anti-Semitism developed by the State Department’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism as a reference point that can be useful. The legislation instructs the Department of Education to take this definition into account as part of its assessment of whether incidents are motivated by anti-Semitism when investigating possible violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 based on individuals’ Jewish heritage or ethnicity.
Enactment of the legislation will not change anyone’s rights or obligations under Title VI, but will help ensure that investigations of future complaints will be informed by a definition of anti-Semitism that includes all current manifestations.