PEC STATEMENT Opposing Efforts to Punish Critics of Israel’s War Crimes in Gaza

PEC STATEMENT Opposing Efforts to Punish Critics of Israel’s War Crimes in Gaza

PEC STATEMENT | Opposing Efforts to Punish and Demonize Critics of Israel’s War Crimes in Gaza


As the world in real-time horror watches Israel’s campaign of genocide and attempted ethnic cleansing in Gaza, protests on U.S. campuses, like at Michigan State University, have raised voices and acted in protest. Along with others in the Lansing area, the Lansing Area Peace Education Center (PEC) has called for Israel and the United States to support a ceasefire and denounced the United States’ complicity in Israel’s brutal bombardment of helpless civilians in Gaza, an assault that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has called a “plausible” violation of international law. Along with pro-Palestinian supporters, the ICJ has called for a ceasefire and for Israel to stop hindering the flow of humanitarian relief into Gaza to prevent starvation and destitution.

But as the cries for an end to the carnage in Gaza grow louder, many supporters of Israel are not calling on Israel to cease its war crimes but rather are mobilizing to stop the protests and to demonize and penalize those who protest. The PEC is expressing deep concern about several pieces of legislation and legislative actions that hinder or punish the exercise of freedom of speech around criticism of Israel’s war crimes in Gaza or that hinder President Biden’s ability to stop Israeli actions that violate human rights and are against American interests. These threats to our democracy cover several areas of attack on opposition to Israel’s war on Gaza and possible United States’ complicity in Israel’s “plausible” war crimes.

The Anti-Semitism Awareness Act makes criticism of Israel antisemitic

The PEC asks legislators to oppose the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act (H.B. 6090, S. 4136).  While the PEC strongly opposes antisemitism, the Awareness Act supports a definition of antisemitism that penalizes Americans’ First Amendment right of free speech to criticize the policies and practices of the United States and of Israel. The bill’s title is misleading, as it purports to raise awareness about antisemitism, but its true purpose is to silence those who oppose Israel’s assault on Gaza. By promoting a definition that conflates antisemitism with political dissent, the Awareness Act would empower those who seek to limit free speech and curtail the growing movement for Palestinian rights. It also prioritizes the interests of a foreign state over the fundamental rights of American citizens to express their views on matters of public importance.

This legislation hinders the exercise of First Amendment rights by adopting a definition of antisemitism set forth by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) for the enforcement of Federal antidiscrimination laws concerning education programs or activities. By promoting a definition that conflates antisemitism with political dissent about Israeli actions, H.R. 6090 would empower those who seek to limit free speech and curtail the growing movement for Palestinian rights. It also prioritizes the interests of a foreign state over the fundamental rights of American citizens.

The IHRA definition of antisemitism that HR 6090 adopts reads as follows: 

“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.” SOURCE

Instead of the IHRA definition of antisemitism, a more impartial definition of antisemitism comes in the Jerusalem Declaration of Antisemitism (JDA). By adopting the IHRA definition of antisemitism, the law conflates antisemitism with criticism of Zionism or criticism of Israel’s policies. This problematic definition would unjustly label criticism of Israel or support for Palestinian rights as antisemitic, stifling legitimate political discourse and activism. It could also criminalize protests and advocacy aimed at ending Israel’s control of occupied territory and advancing equal rights for Palestinians.

This IHRA definition of antisemitism has been contested by the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism (JDA) which offers a definition that is more straightforward and does not create a finding of antisemitism based on the wording of criticism of the government of Israel:

“Antisemitism is discrimination, prejudice, hostility or violence against Jews as Jews (or Jewish institutions as Jewish). SOURCE

The JDA’s criticism of the IHRA definition strongly stresses its significant focus is preventing or limiting criticism of Israel:

“The IHRA Definition includes 11 “examples” of antisemitism, 7 of which focus on the State of Israel. While this puts undue emphasis on one arena, there is a widely felt need for clarity on the limits of legitimate political speech and action concerning Zionism, Israel, and Palestine. Our aim is twofold: (1) to strengthen the fight against antisemitism by clarifying what it is and how it is manifested, (2) to protect a space for an open debate about the vexed question of the future of Israel/Palestine. We do not all share the same political views and we are not seeking to promote a partisan political agenda. Determining that a controversial view or action is not antisemitic implies neither that we endorse it nor that we do not.” SOURCE

While the PEC criticizes the IHRA definition, it remains committed to opposing antisemitism whether it occurs domestically or internationally related to Israel, but weaponizing antisemitism for use offensively or defensively against people exercising free-speech rights to criticize Israeli betrays our First Amendment. The PEC urges legislators to oppose this bill from advancing in the Senate. If you believe some statement opposing antisemitism needs to be expressed as part of anti-discrimination law, the PEC urges you to adopt the JDA’s definition. 

Oppose penalizing non-profit corporations for supporting Palestinians rights

The PEC urges legislators to oppose the Termination of Tax-Exempt Status of Terrorist Supporting Organizations Act. S. 4136. This legislation is the Senate version of HR 6408, which would target a new category of non-governmental organizations, particularly those who engage with Palestinians or on Palestinian issues. It would also enable attacks on nonprofits working in any sector on any issue. It is intended to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to terminate the tax-exempt status of terrorist-supporting organizations. Under current law, an organization’s tax-exempt status is suspended if the State Department designates it as a terrorist organization. H.R. 6408 would extend that designation to any organization identified as having provided “material support” or resources to a terrorist-supporting organization within the past three years.  

H.R. 6408 defines support as the term ‘terrorist supporting organization’ any organization which is designated by the Secretary as having provided, during the 3-year period ending on the date of such designation, material support or resources (within the meaning of section 2339B of title 18, United States Code) to an organization described in paragraph (2) (determined after the application of this paragraph to such organization) in excess of a de minimis amount. The bill gives the U.S. Department of Treasury the right to remove the tax-exempt status of organizations based solely on an accusation of wrongdoing. If it were to become law, any presidential administration could use it as a tool to stifle free speech, target political opponents and punish disfavored groups or those seen as a political threat.

Oppose pro-Israeli witch-hunting investigations of pro-Palestinian supporters

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives is preparing to conduct a McCarthy-Era-style Witch Hunt into 20 groups it claims are behind the campus protests against U.S. support for Israel’s war in Gaza smearing them as antisemitic and pro-Hamas. The Committee on Oversight and Accountability and the Committee on Education sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen requesting “All Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) generated in connection to the following organizations, or any known officer or employee thereof.”

The list of 20 groups includes Students for Justice in Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace, IfNotNow, Open Society Foundations, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and People’s Forum. Some of the organizations are Jewish led. The letter says the Committee is investigating “the sources of funding and financing for groups who are organizing, leading, and participating in pro-Hamas, antisemitic, anti-Israel, and anti-American protests with illegal encampments on American college campuses.” It continues, “This investigation relates both to malign influence on college campuses and to the national security implications of such influence on faculty and student organizations.”

The protest movement across college campuses has carried an overwhelming pro-Palestinian message. The students’ main demands have been a call for a ceasefire, an end to US arms shipments to Tel Aviv, and that their institutions divest from Israel. Still, the authors of the letter claim there are more nefarious forces at work. “It’s no coincidence that the day after the October 7 Hamas terrorist attack, antisemitic mobs began springing up at college campuses across the country,” Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) said. “These protests have been coordinated and well organized, indicating that outside groups or influences may be at play. American education is under attack.” In fact, the protests have been peaceful, with most of the violence originating with the police or the pro-Israeli counter-protesters.

All Americans concerned about protecting free speech rights should speak out to their representatives and the public to oppose such witch hunts on protesters exercising their fundamental rights to petition the government for the redress of grievances.  

Americans must protect our First Amendment right to free speech

Israel’s brutal assault on the 2.3 million people in Gaza under the guise of just going after Hamas has been called a “plausible” claim of Genocide by the International Court of Justice. In response to this potential war crime, many American students and others, including Jews, have protested this assault calling for a ceasefire and for Israel to stop hindering humanitarian relief from reaching the starving and injured in Gaza. This remains both a just cause and an exercise of First Amendment rights. All Americans should oppose these Legislative attacks on free speech by contacting their representatives to oppose these attacks. Contact your representatives to oppose all these attacks on freedom of speech.

Passed by the Board of the Peace Education Center, June 6, 2024.

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