Letter to House Leaders Regarding Anti-Semitism Awareness Act

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December 04, 2018

In an ADL-led letter to House leaders, ADL and 12 coalition partners called for the enactment of the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act before the end of the 115th Congress.

December 3, 2018

The Honorable Paul D. Ryan
United States of House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable Kevin McCarthy
Majority Leader
United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable Nancy Pelosi
Minority Leader
United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable Steny H. Hoyer
Minority Whip
United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Speaker Ryan and Minority Leader Pelosi and Majority Leader McCarthy and Minority Whip Hoyer:

We write to urge you to enact HR 5924, the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act before the end of the 115th Congress. 

This legislation is designed to help the Department of Education and Department of Justice effectively determine whether an investigation of an incident of anti-Semitism is warranted under their statutory anti-discrimination enforcement authority.  The Senate approved this legislation by unanimous consent at the end of the 114th Congress, in December, 2016. 

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is one of the most important federal education anti-discrimination statutes.  But it only prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin.  In October 2010, the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) sent a Dear Colleague letter to schools across the country announcing they would be enforcing an inclusive reading of Title VI authority – including some cases involving religious discrimination and anti-Semtism – on the basis of “shared ethnic characteristics.”  However, OCR did not provide guidance on what constitutes anti-Semitism.  The ASAA provides a reference point – a definition already employed by the Department of State – that can be useful in these cases, including instances when targeted, intentional, discriminatory anti-Semitic conduct may be couched as anti-Israel or anti-Zionist.

Anti-Semitism is disturbingly pervasive and moving into the mainstream.  In recent years, the issues of hostility towards Jewish students and Israel and anti-Semitic incidents on college campuses have attracted considerable national attention.  The ADL’s annual Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents for 2017 included dramatic increases in anti-Semitic incidents both in K-12 schools and at colleges and universities.  And the FBI’s annual Hate Crime Statistics Act report, released last month, also documented a thirty-seven percent increase in hate crimes directed against Jews and significant increases in hate crimes in schools and on college campuses.

While most incidents of anti-Semitism on campus are unrelated to anti-Israel activity, the Department of Education and the Department of Justice should have the authority to investigate instances in which anti-Israel activity – including anti-Semitic stereotypes and anti-Israel or anti-Zionist expressions coded as political discourse – cross the line to targeted, intentional, unlawful, discriminatory intimidation and harassment of Jewish students.  Organized anti-Israel activity on college campuses can create an atmosphere in which Jewish students feel intimidated and under siege. 

It’s not easy to make out a federal anti-discrimination case – and it shouldn’t be. There’s no need to make a federal case out of things that can and should be resolved in school or on campus.  Importantly, this legislation will not affect the current coverage of other religious groups under Title VI – and it will not change the substantive rights, obligations, or standards of review under Title VI.  But enactment of the ASAA is a step in the right direction to help ensure that Jewish students remain safe on campus while at the same time protecting the free speech rights of all students.

We urge you to enact the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act before the end of the 115th Congress.


Agudath Israel of America

American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)

AJC (American Jewish Committee)

Anti-Defamation League

B'nai B'rith International

The Louis D. Brandeis Center For Human Rights Under Law

EMET (Endowment for Middle East Truth).

Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, Inc.

Jewish Federations of North America

Jewish Council for Public Affairs

National Coalition Supporting Eurasian Jewry (NCSEJ)

Simon Wiesenthal Center

Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America