Having experienced anti-Semitism, I was motivated to seek an understanding as to why anti-Jewish extremism is gaining a current foothold on college campuses across the United States.
Two years ago, I recognized a virus-like, anti-Israel malady targeting pro-Israel Jewish students and faculty members, as well as speakers brought on campus to educate all about Jewish values and concerns.
In the beginning, the confrontations appeared relatively civil. However, as coverage by press and television crews expanded, the rhetoric seemed to intensify. Yet, the occasionally hostile exchanges that followed appeared to be largely ignored by campus authorities.
Characterized as Israel policy reactions, angry protestors could be heard spouting recognizable anti-Semitic characterizations, some laced with threats. In addition, the demonstrators loudly silenced any perceived challenges to their anti-Israel philosophy, which stifled rare opportunities for rational discussion. Ironically, only the perpetrator's free speech and assembly rights seemed to matter. As time went on, without meaningful recourse, some of the young demonstrators appeared to act as if the First Amendment gave them the entitlement to intimidate fellow students.
With no agreed-upon legal definition of anti-Semitism from which to draw potential protection, Jewish students on campus became vulnerable to the whims of the protestors. At the same time, they were denied justice traditionally offered to other targeted students under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, simply because it only prohibited discrimination based on race, color, and national origin, not recognizing organized acts of religious discrimination.
Determining a need for federal intervention, on Dec. 1, 2016, the Senate, led by Sens. Tim Scott, R-S.C., and Bob Casey, D-Pa., passed on its first floor vote, and by unanimous consent, legislative initiative S.10, also known as The Anti-Semitism Awareness Act. The intent of the act was to codify a definition of anti-Semitism that would permit the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights enforcement division to investigate those suspected of organized anti-Semitic activity on campuses across the U.S. and to hold accountable the academic institutions tolerating such activities. This ultimately would have helped all students enjoy a more safe learning environment.
On the same day, the House of Representatives' Bipartisan Task Force for Combating anti-Semitism, led by co-chairs Peter Roskam, R-Ill., and Ted Deutch, D-Fla., introduced companion legislation to the adopted Senate bill.
Yet, the bill, which had so much promise, was never brought to a floor vote and instead was moved to the House Judiciary Committee under the direction of Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va. Subsequently, it was transferred to the House Constitution and Civil Justice Subcommittee, where it was left to languish until the end of the 114th congressional term. It was then voided for lack of follow-through, effectively denying its protection to targeted Jews on campuses across the U.S.
There were expressed concerns that the legislative language necessary to accomplish the desired goals might encounter First Amendment issues and codifying anti-Semitism might have its own downside risks. Neither of which was sufficient to summarily dismiss the intent behind the anti-Semitism bill.
Short of reintroducing the anti-Semitism bill, alternate means to address the hostile, if not potentially dangerous, situation on many campuses, must be sought. Perhaps, it might be advantageous to encourage individual states to take on the necessary corrective measures, similar to those used to disarm the "Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction" movement that targeted Israel's legitimacy and viability. Or, perhaps, Congress might investigate amending the Title VI list of discriminations to include organized religion-based persecution. With growing anti-Semitism on campus, the only unacceptable option is inaction.
Bruce Portnoy is a retired optometrist and author of the Geo-political, thriller novel, "First, the 'Saturday People', and then the..." as well as a former op-ed contributor to the Miami Herald. He has volunteered with youth offenders at a detention facility and taught high school students.