Last week, the Trump administration announced that it is changing the way the Education Department investigates allegations of discrimination against Jewish students and is adopting a new definition of antisemitism.
According to the new definition, delegitimization of Israel or holding it to a double standard are actions that would be deemed antisemitic. Several Western government agencies, including the foreign and justice ministries of the US, Britain and Germany, already have policies that deem anti-Zionism a discriminatory practice that uniquely denies Jews the right to govern themselves.
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The news is that the Trump administration is applying that definition to college campuses, a place where anti-Israelism has raged in recent years spurring BDS and other anti-Israel movements in advance of the Palestinian cause.
A policy paper released last month by Kenneth Marcus, the assistant secretary of education for civil rights, announced that the department would adopt the State Department’s definition of antisemitism that applies a test of “three Ds” to determine Jewish discrimination: Delegitimization of Israel, demonization of Israel, and the subjection of Israel to double standards.
The “three D” test is a definition of antisemitism crafted by Natan Sharansky, the former head of the Jewish Agency. In 2004, Sharansky outlined what he called “new antisemitism”.
Demonization, he wrote, is when Israel’s actions are blown out of all sensible proportion and comparisons are made, for example, between Israelis and Nazis, and between Palestinian refugee camps and Auschwitz. Double standard is when criticism of Israel is applied selectively and the Jewish state is singled out, for example, by the United Nations. Delegitimization, Sharansky wrote, is when Israel’s fundamental right to exist is denied.
The BDS campaign does not call for the boycott and divestment from Israel because it wants peace. It calls for a one-state solution, one which BDS supporters envisage will one day end the Zionist enterprise that led 70 years ago to the establishment of the world’s only Jewish state.
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The Anti-Defamation League, which tracks antisemitism in the United States, has recorded a worrisome increase in anti-Israel activity on college campuses in recent years, doubling in the last year alone. Much of this is led by groups like Students for the Justice of Palestine, which has grown in eight years from being on 80 campuses to having a presence today on more than 200.
As expected, Palestinian groups and several liberal journalists were swift to criticize the move as an attack on free speech, and as an attempt by Israel advocates to stifle opposition.
Criticism of Israel is legitimate. The problem is when that criticism is motivated by hate and a desire to see the Jewish state disappear. Forms of criticism of Israel have long ago turned from legitimate acts of protest to antisemitic attacks. When Israeli speakers are heckled on campuses, when Israeli products are boycotted and when students wearing stars of David or shirts with Israeli flags are attacked, this is all part of a campaign to undermine the legitimacy of the State of Israel to exist.
What this means is that universities will need to start taking responsibility for what happens on their campuses. No longer will they be able to claim that every act of protest is part of a wider freedom of speech or right to protest. What allegedly happened at Rutgers University – the case that sparked the change by the Education Department – involved an anti-Israel organization which had equated Israel and Nazis, and then proceeded to demand an admission fee to the event from students it believed were Jewish. When students reported this to the university administration though, nothing was done.
For this new policy to be enforced, it will be important for college administrators to undergo training to be able to identify acts of antisemitism that until now have been disguised as legitimate political protests. Students have the right to protest and the right to free speech but they do not have the right to endanger other students or to discriminate against them because of their religion or their political beliefs. That needs to come to an end and that is hopefully what this change in policy will do.
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