Senate Passes Bill Targeting Pro-Palestine Groups On College Campuses

Last week, the Senate passed a bill that would criminalize expressing support for Palestinians on university campuses as “anti-Semitism."

Credit – AP

Voltaire, the French writer and philosopher, once said, “to learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.” Time and again, this sage advice has served as a gauge for measuring a particular group’s undue influence in society and as a means for better understanding the hidden forces at work in governments. This is particularly true in the case of the “special relationship” shared between the US and Israel, which has been a guiding force in US foreign policy since Israel’s founding in 1948. In the years since, any criticism of the Israeli government’s policies, including those which clearly break international law, have consistently been called “anti-Semitic.” However, criticizing a government’s actions is in no way the same as criticizing a nation’s primary religion and therein lies the problem. Israel has managed to vilify any and all criticisms of its political actions, not matter how small, by linking them to religious discrimination – a tactic which has worked remarkably well to shield many American citizens from the harsh reality of Israeli human rights abuses and apartheid. Even those of Jewish faith are not immune from this ploy as Jews who criticize the state of Israel are often called “self-hating” Jews by those who support the nation’s policies.

This dynamic was on full display during the most recent US presidential election. Though some anti-Semitic groups have indeed been motivated by Trump’s victory, honest and necessary criticism of Israel’s policies has been lumped in with hate crimes that have taken place since the election. The “anti-Semitic” label was been used to shield international bankers from criticism as Trump was called an “anti-Semite” for calling out international banking cartels on the campaign trail. Even Bernie Sanders was called a “self-hating anti-Semite” by prominent Jews for his criticism of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

Using Trump’s victory as a pretext, the Senate has now passed a bill aimed at stopping “anti-Semitism” on US college campuses. Though this is a noble goal, the text of the bill itself shows that the measure is actually aimed at stifling criticism of the state of Israel rather than stopping those who oppose those of Jewish faith on racist grounds. The bill, called the “Anti-Semitism Awareness Act,” uses the State Department’s widely criticized definition of anti-Semitism. According to this definition, “delegitimizing” Israel, “demonizing” Israel, “applying double standards” to Israel, and “focusing on Israel only for peace or human rights investigations” are considered anti-Semitic acts. These are political positions and are more likely to target university groups that support Palestine than Neo-Nazi organizations.

For this reason, the bill was condemned by civil rights groups, free speech advocates, newspapers, and hundreds of academics as a covert way of censoring and essentially banning pro-Palestine groups on campus. Several Jewish groups who oppose Israel’s occupation of the West Bank also denounced the bill. However, it was strongly supported by Israel advocacy groups. The measure is expected to add to the suppression already experienced by college activists supporting Palestine. For example, last December, a student at George Washington University was forced by campus police to remove a Palestinian flag from her dorm room window and faced further disciplinary action if she refused. With this latest bill, the State Department will now be able to investigate students and student groups for their political beliefs and opinions regarding Israel, treating them as expression of racist ideology when they are not.

Efforts to censor pro-Palestine voices have been reaching a fever pitch this year as the Boycott Divest Sanctions movement targeting Israel for its human rights violations has gained traction throughout the world. Even in the US, Israel’s staunchest ally, 46% of Americans now support sanctions against Israel. Israel has even partnered with Facebook to censor Palestinian journalists and new agencies to keep the movement from spreading. However, people around the world are waking up to the fact that Zionism is racism. Zionism, the belief upon which Israel is founded, postulates that only Jews or a Jewish majority are fit to inhabit and rule “the Holy Land.” This exclusivity, based on ethnoreligious lines, is no different than saying Germany is for Aryans or that the United States is for Protestant whites. With efforts to label any political criticism, no matter how small, as “anti-Semitism,” Israel is only further exposing its existential hypocrisy.

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