For years, America’s university campuses have been a battleground between pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian activists. The ethic of intellectual freedom avowed by university administrations allows for the expression of opposing views, but often the weapons used by some of those involved on the Palestinian side have included intimidation, harrassment and anti-Semitic rhetoric.
The universities have often failed to police themselves, allowing campus forums to be exploited for hate and incitement rather than rational discourse. Data collected by various anti-Semitism “watchdog” organizations have documented a steady increase in incidents targeting Jews on college campuses. As a result of these incidents, students can become fearful (even for their personal safety) to speak up for Israel and other Jewish causes, or to attend events where they can expect to be subject to abuse.
Now, the state legislature of South Carolina has become the first to pass legislation to rectify this intolerable situation. The bill requires state universities to use the U.S. State Department’s guidelines in determining which types of speech are unacceptable.
This provision is important because of the difficulty in differentiating anti-Semitic speech from legitimate criticism of Israel. On this the State Department provides useful guidance. It defines as anti-Semitic “targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity” or holding Israel to “double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.” Another clause identifies “holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel” as a form of anti-Semitism.
While no definition of biased or bigoted speech will completely prevent Palestinians and their supporters from attacking Israel and Jews under the banner of free speech, the South Carolina law will provide universities with greater wherewithal to rid their premises of this scourge.
Rep. Alan Clemmons, a Republican member of the state’s Assembly and the bill’s author and key sponsor, told Hamodia: “In the past, far too many college administrators have been able to sweep hatred of Jews under the carpet. This law will require all state-supported schools to adhere to the definition and use it when there is an allegation [of anti-Semitism]. It’s not something they will be able to hide.”
Although campuses in South Carolina have suffered less from this phenomenon than schools in other parts of the country, Clemmons said he hopes other state legislatures will follow South Carolina’s lead.
The provision was included in the state’s budget and is expected to be signed into law by Governor Henry McMaster, who has been strongly in favor of the measure.
South Carolina is to be commended for the move. It shows that its elected officials are aware of and willing to act to protect the rights of Jewish students and supporters of America’s chief ally in the Mideast.
Pro-Palestinians and BDS activists have been claiming that anti-BDS legislation, adopted by a number of states, impinges on their freedom of speech. The argument is a dubious one, necessitating an elastic definition of “free speech” that includes boycotting Israel.
Meanwhile, on the ground, the vicious tactics used against Jewish activists without question harm their free speech rights and belie the pro-Palestinians’ professed concern for the First Amendment. When it comes to attacking Israel (including calls for its destruction, either open or veiled), they invoke free speech; but when it comes to respecting the rights of others to defend Israel, they do whatever they can get away with to stifle them.
It is also worth noting that the State Department’s definition, helpful as it may be, comes a little late in the game. Anti-Semitism predates the Palestinian conflict by over three millenia. Yet, the nations of the world still struggle not only to rid themselves of anti-Semitism, but even to give it a definition that enables governments to legally combat it.
Although governments, as well as the various organizations that have been set up to fight anti-Semitism, deserve much praise and appreciation for their efforts, certainly they can do much more than they have.
But the persistence of this hatred, despite so much that has been done to erase it from society, serves to confirm what Chazal said long ago: “It is known that Esav will ever hate Yaakov.”
Laws and enforcement programs can certainly help to reduce anti-Semitism, but it will never be completely eradicated until Moshiach comes.