- - Tuesday, April 11, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Historically, Americans’ response to hate speech has been more speech. The focus has been on defeating bigotry in the marketplace of ideas and to leave government out of the struggle. This model has guided the approaches of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and other human and civil rights nongovernmental organizations.

Yet right now, we, along with the ADL, American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Jewish Federations of North America, the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, and many other Jewish organizations are turning to our government for help. We are urging Congress to pass the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act.

Why?

Because American Jews are reeling from a surge of hate attacks.

We have been witness to a wave of bomb threats against Jewish community centers, synagogues and schools. Jewish cemeteries have been targeted. We are grateful that the FBIm working with overseas agencies, including Israel, has identified the perpetrators.

The targeting of Jews for hate crimes is not new. Despite constituting only 2 percent of the U.S. population, for more than a decade, the FBI’s Statistics on Hate Crimes confirms that Jews are the No. 1 target of any other religion-based group in America. This ugly reality on the ground is paralleled on the internet, including on social media, where anti-Semitism and hatred of other minorities are incubated and marketed 24/7.

Alongside this frightening national trend is the rise in anti-Semitism on college campuses. What should be mentally stimulating and physically safe academic spaces are quickly becoming hotbeds of anti-Jewish bias, with students each year reporting greater discomfort at publicly identifying as Jewish.

In just the last two years alone, the ADL has reported a doubling in anti-Semitic incidents on college campuses, while a recent study from Brandeis University shows that on many campuses more than one-third of Jewish students feel uncomfortable expressing their opinions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and often feel silenced in debates about this topic, regardless of their connection to Israel.

Because of the strong connection between the state of Israel and Jewish identity, anti-Semitism can be masqueraded as anti-Israel activism. That is why so many major Jewish organizations, representing the full range of the social, political and religious spectrum of our community, support the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act. This legislation provides the U.S. Department of Education with a working definition of anti-Semitism to adequately recognize and take action when anti-Semitism rears its ugly head on college campuses, and to separate free criticism of Israel from actions that discriminates against Jews. It could also serve as a guide for university and campus officials to act when criticism morphs into discrimination against their Jewish students.

Last year, the Senate unanimously passed the bill, but this occurred too late in the session for the House to take action. Nothing has changed in that time, and if anything, recent events at college campuses only intensify its need. Week after week, Jewish students face hostility, intimidation and discrimination. We must ensure that our college campuses remain safe learning environments for every student, regardless of one’s race, religion, ethnic origin, or political beliefs and affiliations.

The Anti-Semitism Awareness Act is the best tool for pushing back against anti-Semitism on college campuses without infringing on anyone’s constitutionally protected rights.

We urge our fellow Americans to help us in our struggle against history’s oldest hate by backing this bipartisan bill.

• Abraham Cooper is the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights organization with more than 400,000 members.

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