Opinion Extra

How SC can fight anti-Semitism

Joe Nicoletti and Ronni Newton pay their respects at a damaged headstone in Mount Carmel cemetery in Philadelphia. More than 100 headstones were found vandalized last week, less than a week after similar vandalism in Missouri, authorities said.(AP Photo/Jacqueline Larma)
Joe Nicoletti and Ronni Newton pay their respects at a damaged headstone in Mount Carmel cemetery in Philadelphia. More than 100 headstones were found vandalized last week, less than a week after similar vandalism in Missouri, authorities said.(AP Photo/Jacqueline Larma) AP

Hundreds of Jewish gravestones have been vandalized in the past month. There have already been more than 100 reported bomb threats to Jewish community centers across our country. And days ago, Benjamin McDowell was arrested for plotting an attack on the Temple Emanu-El Conservative Synagogue in Myrtle Beach. His desire to harm Jewish people was not only an awful expression of anti-Semitism, but a symptom of the national resurgence in anti-Jewish hate.

Over the past few years, the United States has seen an ugly escalation in anti-Semitism. The FBI reports that Jewish hate crime victims outnumber victims of all other religious groups combined. More than half of Jewish university students experienced anti-Semitism in 2014, and nearly three-quarters in 2015, according to researchers at Trinity College and Brandeis University. And things are getting worse. One study found a 45 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents at universities during the first half of 2016.

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Now, more than ever, we need to stress unity across races and ethnicities.

South Carolina legislators can help combat anti-Semitism on our state college campuses by passing H.3643, which ensures crucial legal protections to the rights of Jewish students.

H.3643 defines “anti-Semitism” using the U.S. State Department’s definition. This clear, established description will provide S.C. colleges with the means to fight discrimination against Jewish students. Namely, the schools will consider the definition when determining whether the intent of unlawful activities was in fact anti-Semitic.

It’s crucial to note that H.3643 protects students’ First Amendment rights. Contrary to opponents’ claims, it does not regulate or restrict speech or academic freedom. Rather, it ensures that unprotected anti-Semitic incidents — think assault, battery and vandalism — are properly addressed by universities and receive the same condemnation as other forms of hate.

The balance this bill strikes between addressing discrimination while steering clear of constitutionally protected speech is why it was unanimously approved in subcommittee and enjoys the support of 105 out of 121 House members.

The passage of H.3643 will reinforce South Carolina’s commitment to pioneering legislation against anti-Semitism. In 2015, South Carolina was the first state to pass an anti-boycott, divestment and sanctions law, which prevents public entities from contracting with businesses that boycott jurisdictions with which South Carolina can trade.

Last year, our own U.S. Sen. Tim Scott cosponsored the bipartisan Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, which the Senate passed unanimously. Unfortunately, the companion House bill was introduced too late in the term to pass. Time also ran out before a bill could pass in Virginia recognizing anti-Semitism as a form of unlawful discriminatory practice and calling on public colleges to enact policies against discrimination, including anti-Semitism.

South Carolina now has the chance to achieve what Congress and the Virginia legislature sought: a law to guarantee that all students, including those of Jewish heritage, benefit from equal access to higher education. We can take a stand against this urgent and compounding problem.

If passed, H. 3643 will mark a great stride forward in the fight against campus anti-Semitism.

Rep. Clemmons is an Horry County attorney and sponsor of H.3643; contact him at repclemmons@gmail.com.

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