Why the President of the Jewish Studies Association Opposes the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act

university-2540603_1920The House of Representatives is currently considering the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, which would require the Department of Education’s Office of Civil rights to use a definition of anti-Semitism that includes demonizing, delegitimizing, and applying a double standard to Israel.

On Tuesday, November 9, the House of Representatives’ Judiciary committee held a hearing to discuss incorporating this language into the definition of anti-Semitism. Pamela Nadell, the president of the Jewish Studies Association, was among those who testified.

Sandra Korn caught up with Nadell over the phone on Sunday, after the hearings. 

Sandra Korn: You testified last week at the House Judiciary Committee against the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, with members of the Anti-Defamation League and Christians United for Israel speaking in favor of the bill. Can you talk a little bit about that experience?

Pamela Nadell: I consider it an important service to our nation that I had the chance to share my impressions about what is really a debate about whether Congress should pass a law establishing a definition of anti-Semitism that has a very real potential to restrict free speech on college campus.

I am a very proud Zionist. I am not anti-Israel. But I do respect the right of my students to express positions critical of Israel. Many of the people in the room from established Jewish organizations thought that this law could draw a line in the sand between criticism of the Israeli government and its policies, which would not be defined as anti-Semitic, and language criticizing Israel that crosses the line into anti-Semitism. I’m not certain the Act can do that.

I’m the president for the Association for Jewish Studies. We have very diverse members, and we avoid taking stances that fall outside our mission of teaching and research. But I am grateful to the many members of our organization—faculty teaching around the country who encouraged me to testify and who were very supportive after I spoke. I’m very gratified. While there were only two faculty among the witnesses, I know there are other faculty around the country and in Israel, who support me.