Members of Congress comment on BDS at colleges
By Randall P. Lieberman
On April 15, numerous local members of Congress were among the 37 members of the Congressional Bipartisan Taskforce for Combating Anti-Semitism which sent a letter to John B. King, Jr., the new U.S. Secretary of Education, asking him to outline how his agency is tracking, investigating and responding to cases of anti-Semitism on campus — particularly in light of the spread of the BDS movement on U.S. college campuses.
According to Roz Rothstein, CEO of StandWithUs, the Israel education organization, BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) is "the newest form of anti-Semitism."
Rothstein wrote on the StandWithUs website: "I view BDS as a propaganda movement whose purpose is to instill hostility against the Jewish state and to erode American support for Israel. Their ultimate goal is to get Americans to accept a radical agenda which would lead to the elimination of the Jewish state.
"BDS activists do this by blaming Israel alone for the lack of peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and by eliminating all context for Israel's actions. After spreading lies and misinformation about Israel, they [the proponents of BDS] call for punishing it [Israel] with boycotts, divestment or sanctions."
Among the local members of Congress who signed the letter to King include:
•U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch (D, FL -21)
•U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel (D, FL-22)
•U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D, FL-23)
•U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson (D, FL-24)
•U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R, FL-26)
•U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R, FL-27)
Deutch commented in a recent email: "It is a disturbing reality that a growing number of Jewish students feel harassed, intimidated, and even threatened as a result of the rise of BDS actions on college campuses. BDS actions claim to be political in nature and often use political rhetoric to mask their anti-Semitic, often threatening efforts to delegitimize Israel. This is unacceptable.
"It is essential that our college campuses are safe and respectful spaces for everyone, regardless of their religion, ancestry or ethnicity — and I asked the Department of Education to tell Congress what it is doing to address cases of anti-Semitism and protect Jewish students."
Excerpts of the letter read: "As members of the Bipartisan Taskforce for Combating Anti-Semitism, we are committed to rooting out the hatred which underlies anti-Semitism, and promoting tolerance and peaceful coexistence in the United States and around the world. One of our top domestic priorities is addressing biased programs on college campuses and ensuring academic integrity and campus life for all American students.
"Like you, we believe that no student should ever face discrimination and intimidation — and that the United States government must continually work to ensure that students' rights are never infringed, particularly their freedom of speech, assembly and religion.
"The Department's policies must continually evolve to meet the changing manifestation of certain biases to avoid new elements of prejudice.
"For example, anti-Semitic intimidation, harassment and discrimination are manifested not only in easily recognizable anti-Semitic slurs but also in anti-Semitism masked as anti-Israel and anti-Zionist sentiment.
"We are particularly concerned by reports of over 500 anti-Israel programs on U.S. college campuses during the 2014-2015 academic year, an increase of 38 percent from the prior academic year, as well as 29 BDS movement campaigns sponsored by student groups, an increase of 21 percent.
"In light of these increases, we believe the Department should be prepared to identify and distinguish when speech and activity that are critical of Israeli policies become anti-Semitic harassment and intimidation. We also hope you share our view that any campus activity that threatens, harasses or intimidates Jewish students should not be overlooked simply because it is presented as 'anti-Israel' or 'anti Zionist.'
"The Department of Education has the responsibility for ensuring that all students, regardless of actual or perceived ancestry or ethnic identity, are guaranteed a campus experience free of violence, intimidation or harassment.
"Addressing biases while students are in an educational environment is critical to combating future trends of discrimination across our country. We stand ready to work with you to ensure a tolerant campus environment for everyone."