WASHINGTON (JTA) — Jewish and pro-Israel leaders exchanged heated remarks at a congressional hearing on how to define anti-Semitism.
Tuesday’s hearing of the House Judiciary Committee took up a bill that would, among other things, define as anti-Semitism language that “demonizes” Israel.
Of the nine witnesses who addressed the committee, five said the language was necessary to stem anti-Semitism on campuses. Four argued it infringes on freedom of speech.
At issue is the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, which would codify the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism. The proposed addition to federal anti-discrimination statutes would apply to Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which addresses institutions, including universities, that receive federal funding. A version has passed in the Senate.
The language, in its current State Department formulation, includes a section that defines as anti-Semitism language that “demonizes” Israel. It breaks down the term “demonizes” as “[u]sing the symbols and images associated with classic anti-Semitism to characterize Israel or Israelis, drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis, blaming Israel for all interreligious or political tensions.”
Advocating for the proposed language were top officials of the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Christians United for Israel, as well as Paul Clement, a former U.S. solicitor general.
Barry Trachtenberg, a Jewish studies professor at Wake Forest University in North Carolina, seemed to accuse proponents of the legislation of bad faith.
“They are part of a persistent campaign to thwart scholarship, debate and activism critical of Israel,” he said.
Cooper seemed visibly uncomfortable crowded next to Trachtenberg at the witness table, who kept staring at him. Cooper kept emphasizing that the Jewish leadership in its entirety backed the bill, seeming to sideline Stern’s organizational affiliation. At one point Cooper’s insistence that the entire Jewish community backed the bill drew a correction from Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., who produced a letter from J Street U, the liberal Middle Eastern lobby’s campus affiliate, opposing the bill.
Source: Ron Kampeas, Ron Kampeas, Jewish Telegraph Agency jta.org/2017/11/08/news-opinion/politics/barbs-fly-in-congress-as-proponents-opponents-of-law-codifying-anti-semitism-definition-face-off