Skip To Content

Support the Forward

Funded by readers like you DonateSubscribe

Expert on Hate Opposes Campus Anti-Semitism Bill — Based on Definition He Created

A controversial anti-Semitism bill sailing through Congress has a new critic: The expert who wrote the definition on which the bill is based.

Kenneth Stern, formerly the American Jewish Committee’s specialist on anti-Semitism and extremism, says that the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act of 2016, which aims to combat campus anti-Semitism, is “both unconstitutional and unwise.”

Stern was the lead drafter of the definition of anti-Semitism used in the bill. He says he did not intend the definition to be used in the manner in which Congress is proposing to use it.

The bill, which has the support of such mainstream Jewish groups as the Anti-Defamation League, would instruct the DOE to consider a definition of anti-Semitism that includes “demonizing Israel” or “judg[ing] Israel by a double standard” when investigating discrimination claims.

That definition, now in use by the U.S. Department of State, is based on a longer anti-Semitism definition that Stern and others wrote for the European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia in 2005.

“The definition was never intended to be used to limit speech on a college campus,” Stern wrote. “It was written for European data collectors to have a guideline for what to include and what to exclude in reports.”

Now executive director of the Justus & Karin Rosenberg Foundation, Stern has written a letter to the House Judiciary Committee, calling on the committee to reject the House version of a bill that has already passed the Senate.

He warns that the bill would create a “de facto hate speech code.”

Stern has been a longtime critic of Jewish communal efforts to convince universities and other institutions to officially adopt versions of the EUMC anti-Semitism definition he wrote. In 2011, he broke with his employers at AJC over the usage of the EUMC definition.

In his letter to the House Judiciary Committee, Stern argues that the law already protects Jews from anti-Semitism on college campuses.

“If this bill is passed, its proponents will have the ability to threaten federal funding at colleges and universities where political speech against Israel occurs, and where administrators then don’t try to stop it, or fail to put the university on record calling such speech anti-Semitic,” Stern wrote. “Think of the precedent this would set.”

Contact Josh Nathan-Kazis at [email protected]


Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.