American Universities Can Learn From the UK

Last week, I wrote about the outrageous decision by students at the University of London to deny Jewish students the right to define what constitutes hatred against their group, like all other minority groups. This week, in a long overdue blow to the anti-Semitic BDS movement, the University of Central Lancashire cancelled an event scheduled during Israel hate week for violating the government’s definition of anti-Semitism.

In December 2016, the British government adopted the definition of anti-Semitism advanced during a conference of the Berlin-based International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance:

Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.

Examples of anti-Semitism cited by the conference included:

  • Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.
  • Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.
  • Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.
  • Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
  • Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.
  • Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
  • Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.

The definition minimizes gray areas and confusion regarding the difference between legitimate criticism of Israel and Jew-hatred.

A university spokesman said the program titled “Debunking Misconceptions on Palestine” was called off because it contravened the government’s new definition of anti-Semitism and was thus “unlawful.”

Why is it so difficult for American universities to follow this example?

Israel’s detractors objected to efforts to adopt the US State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism as a means of evaluating campus activities; however, this is an international standard endorsed by the UK, a country that values free speech as much as the United States.

Using this definition, it is clear that many activities during Israel hate weeks around the country, as well as many of the programs sponsored year-round by Students for Justice in Palestine are unequivocally anti-Semitic. The BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) movement, for example, is anti-Semitic because it denies “the Jewish people their right to self-determination” and applies a double standard by requiring Israel to behave in a way that is “not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.”

As I wrote last week, no university acknowledges a First Amendment right to bigotry – even though the Constitution protects offensive speech – except when it comes to discrimination against Jews. UCLA communications professor Keith Fink was interviewed on TV this week and noted several examples of that school’s hypocritical interpretation of the right to free speech. In one case, top administrators condemned and took down posters connecting the anti-Israel hate group Students for Justice in Palestine with Hamas. In another, a fraternity was suspended for holding a “Kanye West” party and the university sent a threatening letter to students warning that all lawful resources would be used against students who engaged in intimidation or harassment. Sadly, this is nothing new for UCLA, which punished a fraternity during my days on campus because it planned a “Viva Zapata” party that offended some students. UCLA is by no means unique; this is the norm across the country.

As I wrote in, “Why do anti-Semites get to define anti-Semitism?” if anti-Semitism is protected speech, then no university should be allowed to prevent other forms of offensive speech. This will never happen because universities have conceded the First Amendment to pressure groups and will not tolerate bigotry directed at the LBGTQ community, women, African Americans, Hispanics, Muslims or any other group willing to protest.

Only Jews are denied protection under the pretext that attacking Jews and Israel is permissible speech. Only Jews are denied the right to decide what constitutes hatred against the Jewish people.

No more.

Administrators can no longer hide behind an arbitrary application of the First Amendment. The University of Central Lancashire has set the precedent American universities should follow. Activities that meet the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism should be prohibited. Practically, that means universities should condemn all BDS campaigns and cancel any events on campus – especially those scheduled for the upcoming Israel hate weeks – that are anti-Semitic.

Dr. Mitchell Bard is the author/editor of 24 books including the 2017 edition of Myths and Facts: A Guide to the Arab-Israeli Conflict, The Arab Lobby, and the novel, After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.

About the Author
Dr Mitchell Bard is the Executive Director of the nonprofit American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise (AICE) and a foreign policy analyst who lectures frequently on U.S.-Middle East policy. Dr. Bard is the director of the Jewish Virtual Library, the world's most comprehensive online encyclopedia of Jewish history and culture. He is also the author/editor of 24 books, including The Arab Lobby, Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews and the novel After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.