A panel of Jewish community leaders, academics and activists testified Tuesday before the House Judiciary Committee on rising anti-Semitism on college campuses. Lawmakers also heard varying perspectives on the “Anti-Semitism Awareness Act” currently under consideration by the committee.
Anti-Semitism on college campuses has drastically increased in recent years. A study conducted by the anti-Semitism watchdog group AMCHA Initiative showed a 40% increase in campus incidents and a doubling of genocidal expression against Jews last year.
The three-hour-long hearing, presided over by committee chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), included testimony by Jonathan Greenblatt, director of the Anti-Defamation League; Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center; Paul Clement, solicitor general under President George W. Bush, and Dr. Pamela Nadell of American University.
Tuesday’s conversation focused mostly on the need to legislate a definition of anti-Semitism. The “Anti-Semitism Awareness Act” would direct the Education Department to rely on the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism. The bill passed the Senate but not the House last year.
Sandra Hagee Parker, chairwoman of the Christians United for Israel Action Fund, was emphatic about the need for such a measure.
During her testimony, Parker referenced a lawsuit charging San Francisco State University with permitting anti-Jewish discrimination. She cited incidents on the campuses of other schools, including George Mason University, where a student wearing a pro-Israel shirt was publicly called “a baby killer.” Parker also addressed an incident at the University of New Mexico, where Jewish students were attacked with rocks thrown at them.
Parker told the Haym Salomon Center that she felt the committee “missed an opportunity” by not having students tell their stories, especially when the committee is hearing from numerous academics who are mostly concerned with academic freedom.
“To get a 360-degree view of this issue, I think it’s low-hanging fruit to call student groups and people who have experienced anti-Semitism themselves as opposed to relying on someone else to tell their story for them,” Parker explained. “Ironically, committee members themselves, parents of college students, shared their own experiences hearing about this at their dinner tables.”
The academics’ points are misguided and unfounded because they’re based on the fallacy that this legislation is an affront to the First Amendment and a de facto speech code, which it absolutely is not. They should have discussed that the act very clearly states that criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitic, it’s written in black and white. They were basically saying that if they criticize Israel, they would violate the act, which is laughable.
During the hearing, tensions rose over the submitted testimony of Prof. Barry Trachtenberg, director of the Jewish Studies program at Wake Forest University, which stated that “there is nothing necessarily wrong in comparing the actions of Israel to those of Nazi Germany.”
“The Jewish community, Jewish families, Jewish students are having to deal in real time with anti-Semitism on campus,” said Wiesenthal Center’s Rabbi Cooper. “To read this crap from this guy — it is, I think, an insult to the Jewish community.”
Cooper went on to describe campus anti-Semitism as an issue that brings Jewish organizations together, regardless of their politics. But he said of Trachtenberg, “This is someone who simply does not represent the mainstream of our community.”
He added, “If you’re being brought forward as an expert, as a representative — of what? of who? I’m frankly disappointed if this is the quality of the opponents that they’re bringing forward.”
Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO) asked Trachtenberg if he signed a petition in 2013 to boycott a conference at Hebrew University in Jerusalem accusing the university of being “deeply complicit in the occupation, settler colonialism and apartheid.” Trachtenberg answered in the affirmative. The congressman then asked, “did you also vote for the Modern Language Association to boycott Israel?”
Trachtenberg replied, “I’m not a member of the Modern Language Association. I wouldn’t have the capacity to vote for it because I’m not a member of the MLA.”
Trachtenberg would eventually answer the question as “no.” But his answer would be considered disingenuous by some.
Trachtenberg did not “vote” for the petition because there wasn’t a vote held. But he did sign the document that reads:
Current (2016) and former MLA members who have signed the MLAMJP [MLA Members for Justice in Palestine] “Open Letter” calling on the association to pass a resolution endorsing the boycott of Israeli academic institutions. Institutional affiliation is indicated for identification purposes only.
Signature number 427 belongs to “Barry Trachtenberg (University at Albany, SUNY).” He taught there before recently joining Wake Forest.
An inquiry for comment and clarification to Prof. Trachtenberg has gone unanswered.
The complete hearing can be viewed online.
Paul Miller is president of the Haym Salomon Center news and public policy group Haym Salomon Center. Follow him on Twitter: @pauliespoint