New York, NY, December 2, 2016 … The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) today hailed Senate passage of the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, 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 campus.
The act addresses a core concern of Jewish and pro-Israel students and parents: When does the expression of anti-Semitism, anti-Israel sentiment and anti-Zionist beliefs cross the line from First Amendment protected free expression to unlawful discriminatory conduct?
ADL played a central role in working with U.S. Senators Tim Scott (R-SC) and Bob Casey (D-PA) in crafting and promoting the legislation. The League also urged the House of Representatives to approve the legislation before adjournment later this month.
“We welcome Senate passage of this important legislation, which will help the Department of Education and Department of Justice to effectively determine whether an investigation of an incident of anti-Semitism is warranted under federal education anti-discrimination laws,” said Jonathan A. Greenblatt, ADL CEO. “This act addresses a core concern of Jewish and pro-Israel students and parents: When does the expression of anti-Semitism, anti-Israel sentiment and anti-Zionist beliefs cross the line from First Amendment protected free expression to unlawful, discriminatory conduct.”
The legislation builds on a welcome 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 protect Jewish students from anti-Semitic harassment, intimidation and discrimination in a March 2010 letter.
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 in their cases, including select instances when discriminatory anti-Semitic conduct may be couched as anti-Israel or anti-Zionist. The legislation instructs the Department of Education to draw on this definition 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. The legislation takes great pains to protect freedom of expression.
“To effectively address reported anti-Jewish incidents that may violate federal education anti-discrimination laws, it is necessary to understand the evolving, current manifestations of anti-Semitism,” Mr. Greenblatt said. “The State Department definition includes useful illustrative examples and can be an important resource. However, it is also vital to accurately distinguish protected speech – including disagreement and even harsh criticism of the government of Israel – from harassing, intimidating, and discriminatory anti-Semitism.”
The legislation will not change the substantive rights or obligations under Title VI. But utilizing the State Department definition can help guide the Department of Education and the Department of Justice in understanding the changing nature of anti-Semitism in order to more effectively determine whether possible legal violations were motivated by targeted anti-Jewish animus.