Controversial antisemitism bill dies in House
(JTA) — The House of Representatives ended this congressional session without taking action on a bill targeting campus anti-semitism, a measure that had been backed by mainstream Jewish groups, criticized by civil libertarians and passed unanimously by the Senate on Dec. 1. Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), chairman of the House Committee on the Judiciary, did not advance the bill through his committee, a congressional staffer told JTA. Congress formally ends its session on Monday afternoon, but the session is pro forma and most members are already back in their districts for a Christmas break. With the end of the session, bills still in committee lapse. The vast majority of bills don’t make it through Congress because of time considerations, although Jewish Insider reported Friday that Goodlatte opposed “rushing” the bill through the House without adequate study. The antisemitism bill’s sponsors likely will reintroduce a version of the bill in 2017, their staffers told JTA.
The bill outlined when criticism of Israel crosses into antisemitism, citing the “three D’s” first advanced by Natan Sharansky, the Israeli politician and former prisoner of the Soviet gulag: demonization, double standards and delegitimization. The act billed itself as a tool “to help identify contemporary manifestations of antisemitism, and includes useful examples of discriminatory anti-Israel conduct that crosses the line into anti-Semitism.”
The Anti-Defamation League, which led lobbying for the legislation, said the bill, should it become law, “addresses a core concern of Jewish and pro-Israel students and parents: When does the expression of antisemitism, anti-Israel sentiment and anti-Zionist beliefs cross the line from First Amendment-protected free expression to unlawful discriminatory conduct?”
Critics of the bill included Michael Macleod-Ball, chief of staff of the American Civil Liberties Union’s legislative office in Washington, who told The Forward that the bill could impinge on the free-speech rights of critics of Israel. The act “opens the door to considering anti-Israel political statements and activities as possible grounds for civil rights investigations,” he said. Kenneth Stern, who as the American Jewish Committee’s former specialist on antisemitism and extremism wrote a similar definition of antisemitism later adopted by the Department of State, told The Forward that the congressional version is “both unconstitutional and unwise.” A number of left-wing and pro-Palestinian groups had criticized the legislation.