On April 29th, the California Senate will vote on SCR 35, dubbed the “Anti-Semitism” bill. This bill would “condemn any act of anti-Semitism augmenting education programs at all publicly funded schools in the State of California.” On it’s surface, this bill may seem inocuous. However, it is a part of a concerted effort of Zionist backlash organizations to equate anti-Semitism with criticism of Israel in order to represess political speech on college campuses.
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The International Jewish Anti-Zionist network condemns SCR 35, and rejects the notion that the bill comes out of any genuine commitment to the struggle against racism. Although the language of the bill, taken at face value, makes it seem as though it is taking a stand against antisemitism and racism, the truth of the matter is that SCR 35 is a Trojan Horse for Zionism, an underhanded attempt to advance racism and colonialism shrouded in the language of social justice. SCR 35 misrepresents and exceptionalizes antisemitism, while eliding the actual conditions of racism with which we are confronted, thereby opening up the door for further silencing of criticisms of Israel on campuses and increased targeting of Arab and Muslim students.
As Jews and people struggling for a world free from all forms of oppression, we reject the exceptionalizing of antisemitism. One of the central tenants of Zionism is the belief that antisemitism is so pervasive and threatening that the only way for Jews to be safe is to isolate themselves in a militarized state – Israel – even if that requires the dispossession and subjugation of the indigenous inhabitants of that land, the Palestinian people. Zionism situates anti-Jewish racism outside of history, treats it as timeless and immemorial, and sets it apart from all other forms of racism, thereby denying the natural alliances with other communities struggling against racism. Singling out antisemitism – as this bill does –and treating it as more significant and important than all other forms of racism, comes out of this longstanding legacy of Zionist exceptionalism and isolationism.
Furthermore, we find it incredibly suspicious that this bill is introduced at a time when Zionist organizations are making a concerted effort to equate criticism of Israel with antisemitism. This was the case when the Zionist Organization of America and Amcha tried to exploit Title VI of the Civil Rights Act to threaten the funding of universities and colleges if they did not prohibit specific criticisms of Israel on their campuses. This effort ultimately proved a failure when the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights’ investigation rejected the conflation of antisemitism and criticism of Israel, noting that “exposure to such robust and discordant expressions, even when personally offensive and hurtful, is a circumstance that a reasonable student in higher education may experience.”
This and other attempts to misuse Title VI are all the more alarming in a context where the civil rights of Muslim students and students of color are being summarily dismissed – as in the case of the Irvine 11, where Muslim students were convicted and sentenced to probation for walking out of a speech given by accused war criminal Ehud Olmert, a non-violent tactic frequently used by students across campuses in California and beyond.
Selectively enforcing campus rules and state laws against Arab and Muslim students speaking out against Israel under the guise of opposing antisemitism is, unfortunately, a widespread and intentional tactic of Zionist organizations.
In 2014, Palestine Solidarity Legal Support (PSLS) documented over 240 incidents of repression and requests for legal advice, nearly 75 percent on college campuses. These ranged from disciplinary actions against students for peaceful speech activities to smear campaigns, death threats and anti-Arab and anti-Muslim slurs against activists who voiced their views.
Singling out antisemitism for legislative sanction in this context is at best misguided complicity and at worst an intentional strategy for furthering racist targeting and political repression.
The implications of this bill are all the more abhorrent in the context of the continued use of lethal state and vigilante violence against Black communities, the rising tide of Islamophobia, increasingly virulent anti-immigrant sentiment, and the continued dispossession of Indigenous communities and erasure of Indigenous histories, among many other instances of the brutality of actually existing racism.
Of course IJAN condemns antisemitism and all forms of racism, but we must engage with the actual landscape of violence and oppression as they exist in the current moment. This bill, by elevating and singling out antisemitism at a time when legitimate anti-racist critique of Israel is being labeled antisemitism dishonors histories of actual anti-Jewish oppression and betrays long histories of Jews and others working together for a world that does not prioritize the safety of some at the expense of others, but in which all people can be free from oppression.