Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) and Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) have introduced the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act which according to a statement on Casey's website is meant to "to ensure the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) has the necessary statutory tools at their disposal to investigate anti-Jewish incidents" on college campuses.
Citing a recent FBI report stating over half of all reported hate crimes in 2015 were of an anti-Semitic nature, the senators claim their bill is necessary to provide the DOE with the "firm guidance" it needs to determine "what constitutes anti-Semitism."
Seemingly shoe-horned into the end of the senators' statement is this line:
This act is not meant to infringe on any individual right protected under the First Amendment of the Constitution.
That's a relief, because someone reading the details of the bill who possesses a basic understanding of constitutionally protected speech would likely see it differently.
Although prosecuting offensive ideas and retrograde views as "hate crimes" doesn't eradicate bigotry but merely adds a component of vengeance and contributes to identity tribalism, the bill's inclusion of "calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews" is difficult to argue against (although "calling for" and "aiding" the killing or harming of anyone is already illegal).
The bill's definition of "anti-Semitism" is directly culled from a 2010 State Department memo, which The University of California Board of Regents considered adopting as official policy, before ultimately agreeing to a softer condemnation of "Anti-Semitism, anti-semitic forms of anti-Zionism," but not a blanket ban on anti-Zionist expression itself. There was also a push by New York state lawmakers to ban anti-Zionist speech on City University of New York (CUNY) campuses, but the bill died in the legislature before it could be voted on.
Unfortunately, the bill also proposes the following as examples of hate crimes:
- Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust
- Demonizing Israel by blaming it for all inter-religious or political tensions
- Judge Israel by a double standard that one would not apply to any other democratic nation
While holding such a view is stupid and objectionable, Holocaust denial is legal in the United States. Likewise, politically "demonizing" Israel and unfairly holding Israel to a "double standard" are thankfully legal, just as a pro-Israel speaker expressing an opinion blaming all of the tumult in the Middle East on Arab Muslims would be.
That's how free speech works. The government doesn't get to judge the validity of thought, no matter how offensive it is to certain sensibilities.
NOTE: This post was updated to clarify the University of California's statement.