Virginia Bill Aims to Fight Growing Campus Anti-Semitism

A bill designed to address the growing number of anti-Semitic incidents in Virginia’s state university system was introduced in the state’s House of Delegates earlier this month.

The legislation, HB 2261, seeks to amend the Virginia Code to include anti-Semitism as a form of unlawful discriminatory practice. Kenneth Marcus, president of the Louis D. Brandeis Center, praised Delegate David LaRock in a statement on Tuesday for introducing the legislation and drafting it “in a way that protects the freedom of speech of all students and professors.”

In a letter to William J. Howell, speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, a coalition of 24 national Jewish and civil rights groups listed a number of anti-Semitic incidents over the past year that prompted the legislation.

• Swastika graffiti in a residence hall bathroom at the College of William and Mary.
• Holocaust imagery spray-painted on a student housing building at the University of Virginia, including an orange Star of David and the word Juden, the German word for Jews.
• Numerous fliers for a local Nazi chapter posted on the Old Dominion University campus, portraying a swastika and stating, “Old Dominion University – You have been visited by The AtomWaffen Division. Join our Local Nazis.” The fliers directed students to a website replete with graphic, hateful, anti-Semitic messages.
• At George Mason University, anti-Israel activists reportedly threatened to “f*** up a Zionist” disparaging Jews as “Zionist terrorists.”

The urgency for the legislation, the letter noted, was due to “increasing levels of anti-Semitism on university campuses nationwide,” including in Virginia:

According to the FBI, Jewish hate crime victims outnumber victims of all other religious groups combined. This problem is especially rampant on America’s college campuses. Researchers at Trinity College and Brandeis University have found that more than half of Jewish students reported experiencing or witnessing anti-Semitism in 2014 and 2015.

The letter also observed that the pending legislation complies with the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, with “the utilization of a widely respected U.S. State Department definition [of anti-Semitism] to determine the intent of certain unlawful conduct.”

The letter also referenced a July study by the AMCHA Initiative, one of the letter’s signatories, that anti-Semitic incidents on campus increased by 45 percent in the first half of 2016 compared to the same period the previous year.

[Photo: Will Fisher / Flickr ]