Anti-Semitism Fight Hinges on Definition

California Ponders When Anti-Israel Speech Is Hateful?

Chilling Effect? Activists attend a California hearing about proposed measures to limit so-called hate speech, which some believe may include legitimate anti-Israel protests.
cecilie surasky
Chilling Effect? Activists attend a California hearing about proposed measures to limit so-called hate speech, which some believe may include legitimate anti-Israel protests.

By Seth Berkman

Published September 25, 2012, issue of September 28, 2012.
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But according to FRA’s Dimitrakopoulos, the working definition was not well received by the organizations on the ground. These groups formulated their own definitions and guidelines when reporting statistics to the EUMC initially, and to the FRA today. Those data are, in turn, compiled and published yearly in the FRA’s annual reports.

In its latest overview of anti-Semitism in the EU, covering 2011 to 2012, the agency makes no mention of its working definition. Each nation reports its respective findings based on its own separate definitions of anti-Semitism.

The California State Assembly’s resolution, known as HR 35, was passed August 28. The University of California is deciding how to respond to a report by a campus committee on anti-Semitism which recommends a ban on what it deems hate speech on its campuses.

UC President Mark Yudof did not publicly support or denounce the assembly’s resolution. But several groups, including Jewish Voice for Peace, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, publicly criticized the measure.

Assemblywoman Linda Halderman, one of the measure’s co-sponsors, said in a statement: “I encourage critics of HR 35 to read the legislation. It specifically recognizes the First Amendment…. The bill has nothing to do with limiting objectionable political free speech.”

But apparently, not every assembly member read the resolution before voting on it.

Assemblyman Bill Monning told the Santa Cruz Sentinel that he and other Democratic legislators believed that the resolution addressed “only real anti-Semitic activities, such as painting swastikas outside Hillel offices.” Monning said he did not know that it included references “to legitimate criticism of Israeli government policies.”
Assemblyman Jim Beall, who supported HR 35, said he had read the entire resolution. He said that with the rising cases of anti-Semitic actions among students, “we’re trying to make a statement saying that’s not appropriate. We’re not telling people they can’t have their freedom of speech.”

Meanwhile, Bonnie Lowenthal, the resolution’s other co-sponsor, told The Associated Press that she would introduce another resolution with new wording in the assembly’s next session, to make clear “in no uncertain terms that students in our universities should feel safe to have differing opinions.”

Feiler, who lives in Sweden, offered some advice: “The most important thing is, we know anti-Semitism exists. We know that it causes problems for the Jews. It should be part of the struggle against all kinds of racism, including Islamophobia. Labeling too many things that are not clear as anti-Semitism endangers the working definition by trivialization.”

Contact Seth Berkman at berkman@forward.com


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